(Disclaimer: Praecere principals have represented The Executive Office of Dubai in prior positions.)
The media universe is abuzz today with the UAE’s intention to block BlackBerry digital communications in October. The emirates’ telecommunications authority says that BlackBerry has the potential to allow “users to act without any legal accountability, causing judicial, social and national security concerns” — though the “legal accountability” standard is likely to be UAE’s insistence on allowing government surveillance of all communications.
This move stands to be a public relations disaster for the UAE, particularly in light of the emirates’ continued push to be a business-friendly oasis in an otherwise politically and economically volatile region. The ban will also create negative perceptions for travelers and tourists, which Dubai has worked very hard to attract over the years. Indeed, how can travel and tourism writers even produce content for their stories if their phones are blacklisted?
Should the ban take place as scheduled, the UAE is in a very weak position to promote itself as a growing hub of transparency and capital markets in the Middle East, something that part of the world desperately needs.
At the same time, BlackBerry has been handed a golden-PR opportunity to develop a thought leadership campaign on privacy and global regulatory issues, one where other technology companies have repeatedly failed to take the lead. With its market share dwindling, BlackBerry can’t afford to pass on openings like this to press its brand as the gold standard in free communication.