Saudi Netizens Criticize New Internet Monitoring Scheme

The leak of an “urgent” memo detailing a Saudi government plan to impose surveillance measures on encrypted online communications, such as Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber has triggered sharp criticism from Saudi Internet users. The news was confirmed on March 31, 2013 by a statement [ar] from the Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC). The statement justified the measure as a means of:

المحافظة على القيم والمبادئ وحماية حقوق جميع الأطراف وحماية المجتمع من أية جوانب سلبية تؤدي إلى الإضرار بالمصلحة العامة.

Preserving values and principles, protecting the rights of everyone and protecting society from any negative aspects that could undermine the public well-being.

The memo also cited “security” as as reason for increased monitoring. If the companies behind these programs refuse to comply with the measure, they will be blocked.

The Saudi Arabian government is known to be using sophisticated American-made technologies to censor and surveil the Internet (the same ones that are used by Chinese and Syrian governments), but it seems that those are not enough. Kuwaiti Cypersecurity expert Abdullah al-Ali expressed doubt over the seriousness of such plans:

أي غباء وأي جهل تهديدات مستمره بالحجب والمراقبة ومبدأ الشخص متهم حتى تثبت براءته، العاجز فقط من يهدد ويتوعد لو كنتم قادرون لفعلتوها بصمت ..

How stupid and ignorant! Continuous threats of blockage and surveillance. Their principle: a man is guilty unless he proves otherwise. Only the helpless threatens! If you are really capable of such a thing, you would have done it quietly.

Saudi blogger Essam al-Zamel expected no response from those companies. He tweeted:

الواتساب حسنت مؤخرا من مستوى الأمان والتشفير في برنامجها. ولديها أكثر من 100 مليون مستخدم. لن يهمها أي ضغوط من السعودية

WhatsApp recently enhanced security and encryption in their software. They have over 100 million users [worldwide]. Any pressure from Saudi Arabia wouldn't matter.

Netizens reacted to the statement with anger and frustration. Nasser al-Ribdi tweeted:

إذا استمرينا كذا فالخطوة القادمة : منع سفر جماعي وإيقاف الجوازات مثل أرتيريا وكوريا الشمالية .. ونصير سجن جماعي حقيقي

If we go on like this, the next step would be a national ban on travel and passports, like Eritrea and North Korea..At that point, we will be in a national prison, literally.

Dhaifallah tweeted:

لا لا ماتوصل لكذا ، أقول افصلوا النت علينا وريحونا …بندخل عام 2014 زي مادخلنا عام 2004

That's way too much. Here is a better idea: disconnect the Internet! 2014 will become our 2004.

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