JEDDAH: Many Saudi citizens are increasingly using social media as an alternative source of news, rather than local media organizations, which are subject to strict censorship and controls regarding content.
There is no doubt that as the use of social networks has increased, so too has the number of people subjected to abuse, threats, discrimination and defamation online. In some cases people, groups or organizations are deliberately and systematically targeted to achieve a specific goal.
Dealing with such abuse on social media is an organizational matter that often requires some form of censorship. There is a fine line between the right of an individual to create and publish a video on social media in which they can express their personal opinions and, for example, the right to publish recorded footage of a crime taking place.
Many questions were raised, for example, by a recent incident involving the kidnapping of a Saudi teenage girl in Riyadh, footage of which was posted on an Instagram live stream. The video quickly went viral, though it was soon deleted.
The posting of such footage of criminal acts is considered a crime and exploitation in the Kingdom. Many other things are forbidden when using social media in Saudi Arabia, including stirring up tensions and causing division among citizens, encouraging criminality, or publishing anything might harm public affairs in the country.
If any person, group or organization feels that they have been subjected to online abuse they can report it to the authorities who will examine the digital evidence, including any video footage.
Abdulrazzak Murjan, an expert in digital evidence and a member of the American Academy of Forensic Medicine, said that rulings by the Supreme Court set out the procedures for dealing with such allegations, and how digital evidence can be used.
“Videos are one type of digital evidence and can be taken as a pretext, when they are free of editing, to prove the charge in the...courts,” he said.
The laws governing information crimes, which involve use of electronic devices to commit a crime, prohibit “producing material that violates public order, religious values, public morals or the inviolability of private life, preparing it, sending it or storing it through a network or a computer.”
While electronic devices and social media can legitimately be used as sources of digital evidence to prove criminal activity, the misuse of such content by publishing it online is itself considered a cybercrime. It is, therefore important to know what to do should you come into possession of such sensitive material.
The obvious first step is to contact the police and hand over the devices containing the digital evidence. Specialist officers will copy the data, analyze it and evaluate it. If appropriate, the evidence will be submitted to the attorney general for further assessment, and then to the court during a trial.
While the misuse of social media in the ways described above can be a criminal act, cybercrime is a more general description for any crime committed using a computer and network, such as hacking, blackmail and cyberbullying. The victims can range from individuals and organizations all the way up to governments. In Saudi Arabia many measures are being taken and constant work is being done to protect people from such attacks.
“In terms of the nature of crimes committed through social media, they fall under the laws related to cybercrimes,” said Budur Al-Sharif, a lawyer. “They are associated with the criminal law, under which fall the cybercrime laws issued by the Communications and Information Technology Commission.
“Saudi criminal law includes many regulations related to addressing cybercrimes in terms of the type of crime, its meticulous peculiarity, its methods and the extent of the punishment imposed according to that law. The punishment for the perpetrators of these crimes can be as high as 10 years in jail or a fine of SR5 million ($1.3 million).”
Lawyer Dimah Al-Sharif called for action to make social media safer for everyone, and to raise awareness of other people’s rights and the consequences of misuse.
“I believe that establishing official and verified accounts controlled by the Ministry of Interior would help to make reports more credible and trustworthy, and reduce false reports. Moreover, awareness is needed among teenagers and minors to make it easier for them to differentiate between their freedoms and other people’s privacy.”
The battle against cybercrime in the Kingdom is likely to escalate as technology becomes more sophisticated, and there are already heavy penalties for crimes such hacking, identity theft, hate speech and pornography.
“We are facing increased hate speech and discrimination and measures have been taken to curb it,” said Muna Abu Sulaiman, a social media personality and expert. “However, enforcement lags behind and involves too many different ministries and authorities. My suggestion is that we develop a law enforcement unit that deals only with cybercrimes relating to hate speech.
“When crimes go beyond social media into the real world, and social media is used only to document them, law enforcement is fast to respond. We have seen several cases where within hours crimes were solved and criminals apprehended.”