There is no doubt that the internet has become a basic means in human life; it facilitates affairs in several areas and is an important source of information and news, perhaps more important than television. Internet is a means of conducting business, such as booking flights, cars and hotels. It is also important in the local and international electronic commerce, which requires the exchange of personal and financial information of users on the one hand and the owner of the service on the other, creating a group that monitors and practices criminal activities such as electronic theft and fraud, which necessitate laws that protect parties and users. There is no doubt that the issue of privacy on the internet and its protection are the duty of governments through the enactment of laws and their application, besides the responsibility of the service provider and the internet user to activate protection programs.
Saudi Arabia is one of the emerging countries in this field in terms of internet access (the internet service was introduced in 1997)1 and its legal legislation. The unique feature of the internet is the complexity of electronic processes, the environment in which they are made, and the target audience. Content might be processed in one continent, and the audience is in another continent or a country thousands of miles away.
Global internet use has reached, according to world statistics, high rates, and in Saudi Arabia this is no different. The rate of internet use in Saudi Arabia is one of the highest in the Arab world. According to a 2016 census, internet users account for 70% of the population2. Electronic commerce is one of the nascent projects in the Kingdom, where the volume of electronic commerce reached 5.7 billion riyals3, in which the use of credit cards has grown, which also include personal information of clients such as personal addresses, pictures, etc., which must be protected by law. It must be indicated that some information on the information network is protected by special laws such as copyright, patent rights, etc4.
Internet has become a modern means that helps the commission of traditional crimes such as drugs promotion or the commission of unconventional cybercrimes such as access to, and destruction of, a website. According to recent statistics, costs of cybercrimes in Saudi Arabia5 reached 2.6 billion and jumped to 323% in two years6.
Due to my personal interest in this subject, especially the legal impact on internet users and society at large, this article will highlight the laws of electronic transactions in the Kingdom and the privacy of information on the internet in order to explain the legal status of the use of the internet. Furthermore, the resulting crimes related to these protections will help shed light on the law against cybercrimes and some of the real cases applied under this legal regime.
Types of Crimes and the Relevant Penalties
The law defines cybercrimes as an action involving the use of a computer or the information network in violation of the provisions of this law.
The law aims to achieve information security, protect the rights resulting from the use of the internet, protect public morals, and finally protect the public interest and the economy.
Law divided penalties according to the extent of the criminal act, from minor offenses to major crimes that affect a large segment of society and the public interest.
The penalty for cybercrimes varied from one year to ten years imprisonment with the imposition of a fine or either of the two penalties. The offenses according to this law varied from infringing the privacy of individuals and intellectual property rights to crimes related to terrorism and the regime.
According to this law, crimes can be divided into:
Crimes against Individuals: these include tapping on the Internet or computer, threats and blackmail, illegal entry into a website or access to a website for alteration or destruction. Misuse of cellphones or the like to have access to the private life or to defame others through the use of information technology is also included.
Crimes against Money: the law provides severe penalties against seizure of funds, bank accounts and data, credit data and securities without a legal basis. It also includes the seizure of bonds or their fraudulent signature.
Cybercrimes Related to Data and the Information Network: they include information destruction, alteration, redistribution or leakage and information network disruption or prevention of access to the service.
Crimes Related to Human Trafficking, Drugs and Morality, the law provides severer penalties against acts related to the development of websites for human trafficking, drugs and the violation of religious values, in conformity with international efforts to combat this scourge. The relevant penalty is five years’ imprisonment and the imposing of a fine of no more than three million Saudi riyals or either penalty.
It is notable that what makes this law unique is that it criminalizes the development of pornographic and gambling websites. It must be indicated that pornographic and gambling websites are blocked by the government’s Information Technology Commission.
Crimes Related to Terrorism and National Security: one of the crimes whose severe penalty might amount to ten years imprisonment and fining is the development of websites of terrorist organizations in order to facilitate communication between those terrorist organizations and their members and disseminate their thought or the method of preparing explosives, etc. Of equal penalty is the illegal access to obtain information related to the national security or economy.
Support and Control Authority:
The law provides that the public prosecution shall be in charge of control, and it may request technical support from the Communications and Information Technology Commission during the stages of control, investigation, and trial.
How to Report Crimes:
The Ministry of Interior makes it possible via its website to report cybercrimes. It does not take more than three minutes. The first step in reporting is to choose the cybercrime type, which includes reporting a hacked website, emails, electronic sharing, messages to satellite channels, and text messages7.
It should be noted that this law does not specify the method of illegal entry and does not refer to the illegal use of block bypass programs (proxy). One interesting point is that in another Arab country, namely the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), the law criminalizes the users of block bypass programs such as VPN applications who use the same for committing a crime or preventing its discovery8.
In many ways, Saudi Arabia is no different than many other countries in respect to taking cyber-crime seriously. The use of the internet and the various connected devices that interface with the world wide web means criminals now have additional resources to achieve their nefarious goals. As countries like Saudi Arabia have put into practice key Anti-Cybercrime law, more will likely be implemented as criminals become sophisticated.
Anti-Cybercrime Law 2007
- “After 12 years of internet access .. Where are we?!”Al-Riyadh newspaper, www.alriyadh.com/410486.
- “22.4 million Internet users in Saudi Arabia.”The world of Technology, 31 Aug. 2016, www.tech-wd.com/wd/2016/08/31/internet-users-in-saudi/.
- “7.5 billion SAR e-Commerce annually in Saudi Arabia.” Alarabiya, ara.tv/rzxn7.
- Copyright Protection Act 2003.
- 2.6 billion e-Crime costs in Saudi Arabia. https://www.mcit.gov.sa/Ar/Communication/Pages/LocalNews/TelNews-19051434_672.aspx
- “IT crimes jump 323% in two years.”Okaz, 11 Oct. 2016, https://www.mcit.gov.sa/Ar/Communication/Pages/LocalNews/TelNews-19051434_672.aspx
- Maqlan, Rayan. “3 minutes to report cybercrime.”Makkah, makkahnewspaper.com/article/143942.
- “There is nothing to prevent VPN in the country.”Albayan, 31 Oct. 2017, www.albayan.ae/economy/local-market/2016-08-02-1.2689230.