The role of social media in solving — and committing — crimes

Many 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. (AFP)
Updated 19 December 2018
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The role of social media in solving — and committing — crimes

  • 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
  • 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

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.”


Iran state TV’s English channel says anchorwoman held in US

Updated 16 January 2019
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Iran state TV’s English channel says anchorwoman held in US

  • The reported detention of Press TV’s Marzieh Hashemi comes as Iran faces increasing criticism of its own arrests of dual nationals and others with Western ties

TEHRAN: A prominent American anchorwoman on Iranian state television’s English-language service has been arrested after flying into the US, the broadcaster reported Wednesday. US law enforcement agencies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The reported detention of Press TV’s Marzieh Hashemi, born Melanie Franklin of New Orleans, comes as Iran faces increasing criticism of its own arrests of dual nationals and others with Western ties, previously used as bargaining chips in negotiations with world powers.
Iran’s state broadcaster held a news conference and launched a hashtag campaign for Hashemi, using the same techniques families with loved ones held in the Islamic Republic use to highlight their cases.
“We will not spare any legal action” to help her, said Paiman Jebeli, deputy chief of Iran’s state IRIB broadcaster.
Press TV said Hashemi, who has worked at the state broadcaster service for 25 years, had been arrested after arriving at St. Louis Lambert International Airport on Sunday. Jebeli alleged that her son, Reza Hashemi, had been arrested as well.
Jeff Lea, a spokesman for St. Louis Lambert International Airport, didn’t immediately return phone or email messages from The Associated Press. Rebecca Wu, St. Louis’ FBI spokeswoman, directed questions to the press office at FBI headquarters.
A call to FBI headquarters rang unanswered early Wednesday morning. The bureau also did not immediately respond to a written request for comment. Several local jails around Washington that house federal inmates also said they did not have her in custody.
Last week, Iran confirmed it is holding US Navy veteran Michael R. White at a prison in the country, making him the first American known to be detained under President Donald Trump’s administration.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told state TV that Hashemi’s arrest indicates the “apartheid and racist policy” of the Trump administration.
“We hope that the innocent person will be released without any condition,” Ghasemi said.
There are four other known American citizens being held in Iran, including Iranian-American Siamak Namazi and his 82-year-old father Baquer, both serving 10-year sentences on espionage charges. Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, received 27-year and 16-year prison sentences respectively. Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang was sentenced to 10 year in prison.
Also in an Iranian prison is Nizar Zakka, a US permanent resident from Lebanon who advocated for Internet freedom and has done work for the US government. He was sentenced to 10 years on espionage-related charges.
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, remains missing as well. Iran says that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him, though his family holds Tehran responsible for his disappearance. Tehran now says it has no information about him.