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Saudi could block WhatsApp before Ramadan: report

CITC says ‘non-compliant’ platforms demand ‘punitive action’

Saudi telecom regulator the CITC could block WhatsApp within weeks.
Saudi telecom regulator the CITC could block WhatsApp within weeks.

Saudi Arabia's telecom regulator has said it plans to block Web-based free messaging service WhatsApp before the holy month of Ramadan if it fails to comply with the kingdom's regulations, Arab News reported on Friday.

Earlier this month the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) blocked communications platform Viber for similar infractions as the regulator takes steps to try and control difficult-to-monitor communications apps in the midst of escalating Internet penetration and smartphone uptake.

"We have been communicating with WhatsApp and other similar communication platforms to get them to co-operate and comply with the Saudi telecom providers; however nothing has come of this communication yet," Abdullah Al-Darrab, governor of the CITC, told Arab News in a telephone interview.

Al-Darrab also made mention of VoIP service Skype, and added: "We will take punitive action against these applications and services if they do not comply with the regulations."

Saudi nationals have spoken out against the action, arguing that the communications platforms are vital in controlling the costs of doing business in the GCC.

"I understand that they want to be able to monitor all types of communications, but the CITC must realise that they can't just cut Saudi residents off from the rest of the world by blocking new services," Nourah Farida, a Saudi businesswoman, told Arab News.

"This is because Viber, Skype and WhatsApp are used for personal and business communication."

Farida referred to weekly conference calls via Skype with colleagues in the UAE and other countries and added: "How are we supposed to communicate globally, are we expected to go back to using text messages and e-mails?"

In April the CITC directed the kingdom's operators to investigate ways to monitor or block Skype and other "non-compliant" services.

"It has become evident that some communication applications through [the] Internet don't meet regulatory requirements," CITC said at the time, without elaborating on the nature of the requirements.

"The authority has informed licensed [telecom] providers of the need to work with the developers of these applications to quickly meet these requirements."