Several Muslim countries around the world (the story focuses on Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, but the United Arab Emirates are also taking the same position) are in dispute with the makers of Blackberry mobile phones and PDAs, Research In Motion Ltd, because RIM refuse to give the national governments in question access to the security protocols which would allow their "security services" to read the contents of any text messages, emails, and tap phone conversations.
On the one hand, this might make RIM minor heroes, because there are strong suspicions that the "anti-terrorist" measures the states in question give as reasons for wanting the security access are in fact just figleaves for general nosiness and - more pertinently - access by Islamic authorities (in Saudi at least, a powerful lobby) to check on whether their citizens are being good Muslims (so no contact between unmarried women and any men who aren't their male relatives, for instance).
On the other hand, we in the West may not be able to be quite so smug about the backward Arabs trying to enforce their 9th century morality because our own security services have for some years now had, or been trying to get, security access to tap all our wireless communications. In this context, the fact that there hasn't been an open fight with Blackberry in the US or UK (or other Western nations) means one of three things: either the greater resources of our security services found it a lot easier to hack RIM's security measures, or the covert threat of market restrictions on what are much bigger and more lucrative core markets right now (as opposed to mere potential markets, as in the Muslim world) have long ago scared RIM into giving up their security protocols. Or, third, our security services just aren't interested in tapping every phone conversation and reading every message.
And on the third hand, while this potential for "virtual wiretaps" opens up a market opportunity for a phone company with even tighter security, there's still the worry that unpleasant and criminal people will still want to use it to deliberately conceal their nefarious plots from detection. Even that is balanced by the scope of what is illegal in any one jurisdiction. If country A outlaws adultery and homosexuality and alcohol drinking, are they wrong to pursue lawbreakers with every tool at their disposal and more than B is where "only" terrorism and organised crime are the targets?Who's in the right on this issue?
Should governments be able to exert direct pressure on commercial businesses in this way to allow themselves easier intelligence gathering?
If country A outlaws adultery and homosexuality and alcohol drinking, are they wrong to pursue lawbreakers with every tool at their disposal and more than B is where "only" terrorism and organised crime are the targets?
Is tapping a cellphone or PDA different, in principle, from tapping a landline phone? If so, how?