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Saudis give firms time to test BlackBerry system

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia's telecom regulator is giving mobile operators more time to finalize a deal to allow BlackBerry messaging to continue, staving off a ban of the service in the Arab world's largest economy.


Officials have told The Associated Press that device maker Research in Motion Ltd. has reached a preliminary agreement with Saudi regulators that would allow the government some access to users' data, and that authorities were examining how such a system might be implemented.


They say the plan involves placing a BlackBerry server inside Saudi Arabia, which already has strong controls on the Internet to block morally offensive and political content and maintains strict controls on freedom of expression.


Authorities say they are concerned about security, though critics contend that Saudi Arabia and some other countries mulling tougher BlackBerry rules are also motivated by a desire to monitor users' speech and political activity.


The oil-rich kingdom's Communications and Information Technology Commission said in a statement late Saturday that telecom companies now have 48 hours ending Monday to test a system that would allow them to avert a ban.


"Considering the efforts made by mobile phone service providers toward meeting CITC's organizational requirements and fulfilling license conditions, they were given an additional grace period of 48 hours, which ends on Monday, in order to test the proposed solutions," the regulator said in a brief statement. No details were provided.


RIM has declined to comment on the state of negotiations. Saudi Arabia's three mobile operators couldn't be reached.

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