Wednesday, March 21, 2018
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Obama trumps Saudis in spy game

spy gameBy Teymoor Nabili

Many people reacted with shock and outrage when they first learned that Saudi Arabia wanted to ban the Blackberry.


Bloggers, commentators and media of all stripe were convinced that this amounted to:

"nothing short of an invasion of privacy. Not only will the government be spying on innocent people, but it presents the opportunity for a broad level of censorship."

Others, who weren't quite so cloistered as to believe that democratic states allow on their citizens total privacy in their communications, tried to finesse the debate with the tried-and-tested "but we're an exception" argument.

"There is a fundamental difference between companies providing limited access to personal data to democratic countries, where rule of law protects basic human rights and legal safeguards prevent this data from being misused, and providing unfettered access to such information to countries that lack safeguards that provide such protections."

That may well be true. But let's for the moment put aside the many cases where the rule of law and legal safeguards have failed to protect individuals from their government, and let's abandon also the whole debate about whether or not there are exceptions to the right to privacy. At least we can now all agree on one thing: the move by Saudi Arabia to ban the Blackberry was not sinister or authoritarian at all.

In fact, it was rather weak-kneed when you compare it to what Washington is now proposing.

"officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications - including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype - to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages."

Teymoor Nabili is an award-winning presenter and correspondent based in Kuala Lumpur.

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