Saudi Government to Track Mobile Phone Users via Fingerprinting

The Government of Saudi Arabia successfully passed a law in early September of 2015 that regulates the communication industry. After a failed attempt to regulate the use of mobile phones in 2012, Saudi authorities began the implementation of a new law that requires purchasers of SIM cards to be fingerprinted. As the Saudi daily, Al-Hayat reports, the Ministry of Interior claimed the purpose of the law is to stop mobile phone usage that “threatens national security.” The law states that Saudis must give fingerprints to access “services provided by employees of the communication industry.” The information collected is reportedly sent to the Saudi National Information Centre to confirm the identity of the purchaser.

With the registration of SIM card users, Saudi authorities are potentially able to track and identify any individual with a mobile phone purchased in Saudi Arabia as of 19 January 2016. Though the government states that this will allow it to better counter national security threats, the system could be used to track the activities of peacefully-dissenting citizens. In recent years, multiple human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have reported the Saudi government’s misuse of terrorism regulations to target activists and reformists. Since 2011, the Saudi Specialized Criminal Court, the nation’s terrorism tribunal, has accused and sentenced political rights activists such as Mohamed Saleh al-Bajadi  and Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on alleged “terror” charges; in July 2014, the same court used a new anti-terrorism law to sentence human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Kair to 15 years in prison.Gov

William Jay is an Advocay Intern at Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain