Saudi Government Attempting To Access Encrypted Skype, What's App, Viber Connections

on March 25 2013 3:02 PM
  • 4. Saudi Arabia
    The Kabba, a holy Muslim site in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Reuters/Hassan Ali
  • Skype CEO Tony Bates with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
    Microsoft Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Steve Ballmer (L) and Skype CEO Tony Bates shake hands at their joint news conference in San Francisco, May 10, 2011. Saudi Arabia has threatened to block Skype access to all users in Saudi Arabia unless Skype allows the government to regulate its encrypted messaging service. Reuters/Susana Bates
  • Viber founder and CEO Marco Talmon
    Viber's Founder and CEO Marco Talmon gestures during a news conference at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona February 26, 2013. Viber is one of three messaging services that the Saudi government has threatened to block due to its encryption. Reuters/Albert Gea
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The Saudi Telecommunications and Information Technology Commission has demanded that telecom companies Skype, What’s App and Viber hand over access to their encrypted networks or face being banned in Saudi Arabia.

“The Communications and Information Technology Commission has requested companies operating the applications to meet the regulatory requirements to avoid their suspension in the kingdom,” sources told Saudi news site Sabq.

The companies have a week to respond as of Monday, Al-Arabiya reported.

The issue of Skype, What’s App and Viber has been at the top of the CITC’s agenda for almost a month, Arab News reported. The reaction from users in Saudi Arabia was a mixture of outrage and disappointment.

“I really don’t understand what they mean by monitoring,” said Khalid Tunsi, a finance student in the U.S., to Arab News. “Are they going to tap into the conversations I have with my mother and sister? … If they cut off these applications, it will make my life really difficult because with this technology I am able to see my mother every day.”

This announcement is the latest attempt by the Kingdom to censor and regulate an already highly restricted social networking scene. The Saudi government previously went through a similar showdown with Research In Motion, the maker of Blackberry, over its encrypted Backberry Messager service (BBM) in 2010. In that case, Research In Motion caved and gave the government access to regulate and read Saudi users’ BBMs. Twitter and Facebook are already highly regulated and censored, Al-Ahram reported, and the ever-widening sphere of social network communication apps is a source of much concern to the government.

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