Saudi Arabia wrestles with cybercrime in social media era

Published on 09 Jan, 2017

In Saudi Arabia, the full spectrum of issues surrounding cybercrime tangles with traditional attitudes about moral values to create quite a complex navigational field for social media users.

A December 2016 opinion piece by a private party, Saeed Al Qahtani of the corporate law firm Al Tamimi and Company,discussed the Saudi Anti-Cyber Crime Law, which protects the rights of users and the integrity of the internet, along  with safeguards for data, an effort to protect public morality, and individual privacy.

One of the things the Qahtani wrestled with is the effort to distinguish between deliberate and willful cybercrime acts and everyday content social media users might transmit without knowing they’re involved in criminal activity.

For example, since pornography is illegal in Saudi Arabia, many types of routine forwarding of e-mails or digital messages from outside the kingdom could constitute some form of cybercrime.

“It is clear that social media users should take care when using social media and should be mindful at all times of their rights and obligations under the Saudi Anti-Cyber Crime Law,” Qahtani said.

For more on cybercrime and its effect on social media use in the kingdom, the Gulf News Journal spoke with Tulika Saxena at the global research firm Aranca. Saxena has more than a decade of experience in strategy consulting and market development in the technology sector.

“In my opinion, although social media provides opportunities to empower individuals in multiple ways, it gradually is also becoming a breeding ground for cybercrime, with people misusing these free and easily accessible platforms,” Saxena said. “Social media platforms provide these individuals an incredibly broad reach to manipulate users and execute various cyber scams, ranging from social engineering, brand impersonations, and account takeovers to more sophisticated attacks, such as shutting down network servers. Additionally, social media could also be used to facilitate terrorism.”

Saxena pointed out that half of the Saudi population is under the age of 25.

“Saudi Arabia is unsurprisingly a big market for social media, not only in the Middle East but also globally,” Saxena said.

Nearly 65 percent of the country’s population already has access to the internet, he said, the country ranks seventh globally in terms of individual social media accounts, and it has more than 40 percent of the Middle East and North Africa region’s Twitter users.

“To combat the growing threat, I believe it is absolutely essential for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to have well-defined, effective anti-cybercrime laws and establish a robust regulatory framework,” Saxena said. “A well-defined regulatory framework would help the country tackle challenges such as terrorism, which have emerged due to the changing geopolitical landscape in Saudi Arabia’s immediate neighborhood. Robust Saudi anti-cybercrime laws would deter cyber criminals from threatening the country’s peace and economic growth.”

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