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Saudi Mobile Company Seeks Privacy Advocate's Help to Spy on Clients

Saudi Arabia's second largest telecommunication company, Mobily, has reached out to a privacy advocate for help in surveilling encrypted communication applications.

In March, the governmental Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission threatened to block WhatsApp, Skype and other applications that do not comply with Saudi regulations (which include allowing surveillance) and gave telecommunication companies a deadline to find a solution or block them. The American developer and privacy advocate Moxie Marlinspike published an email exchange that he had with Mobily as they were looking for help.

In one email, the Mobily head of security department used the standard terrorism line to try to convince him:

If you are not interested than maybe you are on indirectly helping those who curb the freedom with their brutal activities.

Marlinspike decided to publicize the request, and it got massive attention within the Saudi Twittersphere. Once it caught on, he tweeted in Arabic:

شكرًا للكلمات اللطيفة والتسجيعات من السعودية. كنو دائما بصوت عالي عندما يحاولون اسكاتكم. #موبايلي_تتجسس_على_الشعب

@moxie: Thanks for all of the kind words and encouragement from Saudi Arabia. When they try to silence you, be loud.

A line of people outside a Mobily office in Medinah, Saudi Arabia on October 16, 2012. Photo by Kashif Aziz.(CC-BY-Attribution 2.0 Generic)

A line of people outside a Mobily office in Medinah, Saudi Arabia on October 16, 2012. Photo by Kashif Aziz.(CC-BY-Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Some called for a boycott, others criticized what they thought of as the root of the problem, namely, dictatorship and repression. Reactions were under the hash tag #موبايلي_تتجسس_على_الشعب [ar], which translates to “Mobily spies on the people.”

Saudi netizen Faris Abaalkhail called for a legislative change:

الحل هو ليس فقط تغيير مزود الخدمه اذا تبت #موبايلي_تتجسس_على_الشعب بل المطالبه بسن قوانين تحمي خصوصيتنا وتجرم مثل هذه الأفعال #السعودية

@FarisAbaalkhail: The solution is not to only change the service provider if [this] is proven to be true, but to demand laws that protect our privacy and criminalize such actions.

Bandr al-Amri and many others accused the Interior Ministry of being behind this attempt:

#موبايلي_تتجسس_على_الشعب لذلك يجب معاقبتهم .. و معاقبة من أمرهم بذلك يا # وزارة_الداخلية

@ZajeelBird: #Mobily Spies on the People – for that they should be punished and those who ordered them should be punished too, namely the Interior Ministry.

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