Saudi Arabia threatens to ban Skype unless it can spy on users

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Unless encrypted messaging apps like Skype, WhatsApp and Viber allow the Saudi Arabian government to monitor their users, the companies could be banned by the country’s telecommunications regulator, the BBC reported Monday.

The companies responsible for the apps have until Saturday to respond to Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), Saudi newspapers report, although no reason for the demand has been given.

Although Saudi citizens have come to rely on encrypted services like Skype as a way to communicate freely with friends and family, away from the eyes of the government.

The Saudi monarchy is one of the most repressive regimes in the world, according to a study by human rights group Freedom House.

Saudi blogger Ahmed Ohmran wrote over the weekend that local telecommunications companies may also be willing to comply with the CITC’s request to block the apps because the apps “dent at the revenues of these companies as people would use them to communicate for free instead of using paid for calls and messaging services.”

The Saudi telecoms would be willing to do this, he said, despite the fact that it would upset their customers.

The country made a similar move to rein in Blackberry’s messaging service, which is also known for its encryption, several years ago.

Communications technology companies Nokia and Seimens drew fire from human rights activists for enabling Iran to put its citizens under surveillance during the country’s 2009 election.

Even trust in Skype, which is widely used across the world, has been shaky until recently when Microsoft — which owns Skype — published its first transparency report about government requests for user data.

Microsoft’s transparency report places it amongst the ranks of Google and Twitter, who publish regular reports on government requests for user data.

Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

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