Dubai: BlackBerry services have once again come under scrutiny after cases of their misuse to malign establishments and individuals came to light, officials in Al Ain and Ras Al Khaimah said.
Authorities have directed the departments concerned to check the spread of such rumours by initiating legal action against those found responsible.
"Among the rumours that have been in circulation in recent days was one about a member of staff at the Reem Al Badawi beauty salon being a tuberculosis patient," said Hassan Al Kaabi, Al Ain Municipality's chief public health inspector.
Al Kaabi said inspectors from the department checked on the case and found that the rumour was baseless. "The rumours focus on certain rival organisations in the emirate to achieve their mala fide intentions," he added.
"We cannot control rumours of this nature, but, we can only deny the rumours. Those who are affected have the right to file a legal case against the initiators," he said.
"We call on the Ministry of Interior and the TRA [Telecommunications Regulatory Authority] to bring such misuse under control through the enforcement of certain security measures," Al Kaabi said.
"Business rivalry could be the motive for this. It could be the owner of another salon with the intention to ruin others' business," he said.
The matter first came to the municipality's attention in April and inspectors were dispatched to check on the salon, which is located in the city's Oud Al Touba district. "We were told that one of the employees at the salon had tuberculosis," Al Kaabi said.
"The inspector ordered the manager of the salon to obtain a health certificates for all the workers in his salon although we were sure they were free of contagious diseases once they had renewed their annual licence."
The municipality subsequently received another ‘tip-off', a few days back, added Al Kaabi. "The same message was circulating on BlackBerry, saying someone there has got tuberculosis. Inspectors returned to the salon for inspection, and again found it to be clear," he added.
While no one knows where the message originated, Al Kaabi suspects foul play. "There are lots of messages circulated about different salons. The problem is people believe everything on BlackBerry," he said.
Similar incidents were also reported in Ras Al Khaimah. The BlackBerry rumours had also sought to undermine a number of vital services offered by both the public and private sectors, a source at Ras Al Khaimah police said.
The source added that such rumours were particularly targeted at those in the 16-22 age group.
The source recalled how a false message about a massive blaze at one of the important government hospitals in the emirate, the Saqr Hospital, had left residents particularly alarmed.
Ahmad Al Shamisi, duty manager at Saqr Hospital said: "The fire was reported two years ago; in such circumstances we work together with the main concerned bodies like the civil defence, water and electricity authority to solve all problems."
The rumour about the blaze at the hospital had quickly circulated around the emirate, Al Shamisi said. The hospital administration was cooperating with authorities investigating the rumours, he said.
Another rumour spoke about a dental clinic in Ras Al Khaimah that had been shut down after infecting one of its patients with ‘hepatitis A'.
An official source from etisalat told Gulf News: "We cannot do anything regarding BlackBerry rumours, we only receive complaints from people, then transfer it to TRA and the Ministry of Interior."
A source from the Ministry of Interior told Gulf News that the ministry took a serious view of those "spreading rumours in UAE society" and tried to track them down whenever it received a formal complaint.
"We are investigating the issue, the moment we catch the original sender of such horrendous messages, he or she will face severe punishment," the official said. He said those found spreading such rumours among the general public risked long-term imprisonment given the debilitating effects of their actions on communities and society in general.
The source called on all BlackBerry users to take advantage of technology but to desist from using it as a tool of revenge.
It may be recalled that the Ministry of Interior recently launched an awareness campaign against SMS rumours.