JEDDAH: RIMA AL-MUKHTAR
Published — Monday 25 March 2013
Last update 27 March 2013 8:00 pm
WhatsApp, Viber and Skype users in the Kingdom face the risk of being barred from these applications if the owners of these communication platforms do not provide a monitoring server by the end of this week.
The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) is threatening blockage of programs and applications that provide conversation and visual communication because they use encrypted connections, an Arabic daily reported.
According to two informed sources who work at local telecommunication companies, this issue has been at the top of the agenda of discussions during meetings between heads of telecom companies and the CITC over the past 20 days. The meetings have finally concluded with the CITC demanding that it be allowed to monitor the encrypted applications. In addition, officials from the CITC have cautioned that they might block these programs if they fail to reach an acceptable solution with the owners.
In an initial reaction to the news, both Saudi and non-Saudi users have expressed anger and annoyance, as some of the applications that might be halted have become vital conduits of communication between family and friends.
“I would be very disappointed if CITC disconnects this server; I use it every day to talk to my wife and children who live in India,” said Indian schoolteacher Mohammed Akram. “Viber is the cheapest way to reach my children. It enables me to chat with them, share pictures and send voice messages. If they ban it, I would have to go back to talking to my children once a month without seeing them until I visit them,” he added.
Saudi students on scholarships who use the Skype video application to contact their parents are also disappointed.
“I really don’t understand what they mean by monitoring. Are they going to tap into the conversations I have with my mother and sister? Does that mean they are going to have to wear the veil when they open the camera for me?” pondered Khalid Tunsi, a finance student in the US. “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,” he added.
Tunsi’s mother is also concerned with this news, saying this application has bought her comfort. “No one understands what I’m going through; my only son is living a million miles away and he only receives one ticket per year from the Saudi Cultural Attaché to come home for a visit,” she said. “If they take these applications away from me, I will really be depressed.”
WhatsApp is an application that businessmen such as Hani Ayyash use to communicate with his employees and clients for free. “I have created a group for my colleagues and employees, especially when I’m traveling, as I need to be informed about any updates,” he said. “Is CITC giving us lower rates after banning free applications that everyone uses? I believe they should provide us with a replacement because all we want is to obtain lower rates and free communication technology,” he added.