Saudi Arabia government cancelled voice/video call ban and for message apps set the censorship standard

September in Saudi Arabia was marked by another “softening” of the laws. If you leaveout of sight the systematic expansion of women’s rights in the country, there also was a ban on online calls through applications that was cancelled. The ban has been in effect for several years, and it embraced such mass applications as Skype, WhatsApp (+FB Messenger) and Viber. That is, it`s about applications and programs that allow conversation participants to conduct an anonymous conversation. However, a little later, after the lifting of the ban, Viber and Facebook Messenger were again blocked.

Saudi Arabia position and situation analysis

Adel Abu Hamed, the representative of the regulator of telecommunications networks of the country, just commented on the situation. The purpose of apps using rules is twofold. The first one is user data protection; the second position is the restriction of content that violates the laws of the country.

He was asked: “Will the applications be controlled by government” The answer was predictable, and full relaxation of laws should not be expected. Global and local applications for video or text messaging in Saudi Arabia cannot be used without the involvement of Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC). It should also be noted that officially the ban on the use of instant messengers was introduced in the country in 2013 as a measure of opposition to possible threat actions, which can attack state’s security. The countries of the Persian Gulf as a whole have softly reacted to the participants of the Arab Spring protests of 2011, when poorly controlled Internet was the main instrument of communication. The exception in this matter was only the strict position of Bahrain Kingdom.

Perhaps, by such actions, Saudi Arabia’s begins a veiled game to improve the international
image. Times change rapidly, oil fades into the background, is diligently squeezed out of everyday life and cheapens. At the same time, “black gold” is still there, it needs to be disposed of somewhere, and it is desirable to sell it more expensively. There are no other “explosive” sources of income and are not expected.

But the reality of the adopted laws is still questionable. Those who do not come to cooperate will face open confrontation and opposition from the government of Saudi Arabia. For example, it is already possible to foresee the situation with Telegram, which actively opposes censorship at any level. However, a turn in the right direction has been made, and this, for example, will seriously impair the position of the three main telephone operators. The reason is that all international calls from the country passed until this moment only through them. If is all about millions of active clients and very large profits, respectively.

In which countries are the messengers also banned, – and why?

The banning of messengers in Saudi Arabia is not the only one in the world. Despite millions and even billions of users, applications are banned in a number of world’s countries.

For example, Kazakhstan banned WhatsApp in 2017. This restriction applies only to civil servants. The reason was the regular leakage of important government information when transmitting data through WhatsApp. It is interesting to add that officials were banned from telephones with technical access to the Internet (and also cameras). The authorized phone has only the functions of a call and SMS.

The situation in China generally deserves a separate article. The limitation of WhatsApp use (and other messengers) in China began in 2017. The reason for this was the expansion of the application functionality and the introduction of new encryption protocols. These protocols complicated WhatsApp spy methods. Soon, Chinese users encountered problems when sending files, photos and videos through WhatsApp. Later, text correspondence became a problem. The official China did not give explanations.

Pakistan blocks Skype, WhatsApp and Viber from time to time according to possible terrorist threats. There is no complete ban here, but the authorities do what they want (and when they want it). A similar situation is in Egypt. Here all the messengers and social networks can be blocked in times of disloyalty to the government. As for North Korea, here the messengers are banned, because the Internet is banned in principle. In the country there are only internal state networks. This list can be continued, and the reasons will be different. But the meaning is one, and many states need to reconsider their internal policy in this matter, so as not to look absurd.

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