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Saudi Skype ban against human rights: lobbyists

Planned blockage contravenes government-signed agreement, says rights group

Saudi Skype ban against human rights: lobbyists
The Saudi government argues that strongly encrypted services curtail its ability to fight terrorism and criminality.

Saudi Arabian human rights groups say a reported plan to ban or monitor Internet communications platforms Skype, Viber and WhatsApp contravenes an Arab human rights convention signed by the government, according to Arab News.

The country's Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) has threatened to block the applications, which have millions of users around the world, because they use encrypted connections, according to the English language daily.

Unless monitoring servers are installed the free services would be blocked, the CITC warned.

"This is a breach of the ninth article of the Saudi communication system, which stipulates the secrecy of data and information of any phone calls that a person makes," National Society for Human Rights spokesman Saleh Al-Khathlan was quoted as saying in a local newspaper.

Saudi Human Rights Association media officer Muhammad Al-Muadi said the association was discussing the issue with the CITC.

"The CITC does not have the power to deal with this matter. It does not have jurisdiction over the control of communication and information," Al-Khathlan said.

The planned move contravened the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Saudi Arabia had signed, he said.

"If there is any threat [posed by] these applications, the CITC should co-operate with the service providers to find solutions for users - voluntary ones, not obligatory ones, such as firewalls," he said.

"These means of communication are for the benefit of each household, linking family members inside and outside the kingdom. They are an international means of communication."

Skype, which is owned by Microsoft, allows users to communicate over video link, while WhatsApp is a free instant messaging service for smartphones such as Apple's iPhone and BlackBerry.

Saudi Arabia banned the use of BlackBerry services in the kingdom in 2010 in similar circumstances, with the government claiming that the technology's strong encryption could hinder its efforts in fighting terrorism and criminal activity.

Arab News said Skype and WhatsApp had until the end of this week to provide the CITC with the means to monitor communications via the platforms.

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