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Tracking Saudi’s surfers

Tracking Saudi’s surfers

The Saudi government has ordered all internet cafés in the kingdom to install hidden cameras, and to shut up shop by midnight.

April 16, 2009 2:08 by

Saudi’s Ministry of Interior has made it mandatory for internet cafés in the kingdom to install hidden cameras, and to supply a record of names and identities of their customers, reports the Jeddah-based Saudi Gazette.

According to the regulations, those under 18 years of age will not be allowed into the cafés, which also have to close by midnight. The report also states that a Saudi national must be employed in the café, and that all phone lines must be in the name of the licensed café rather than in the owner’s, or anybody else’s, name.

Police have started doing their rounds to issue the rules, says the paper.

Such rules are not new, however. In 2003, Saudi imposed similar policies: all internet café customers had to surrender their ID cards, so that their names and ID numbers could be written down by café owners; users under 18 were not allowed to access the café, unless they were computer science students or were accompanied by their guardians; and users had to be “guided to use the internet in a positive manner, consistent with Islamic teachings and government laws.”

The government also informed internet café owners to warn users that if they violated the rules, they would be fined or even imprisoned.

Earlier this month, authorities in Tabuk, a province in Saudi, shut down an internet café for downloading pornographic material as a pay-per-view service for customers.

And in 2000, officials in Mecca also shut down a women-only internet café for reasons of “public morality.” The café, near Mecca University, was closed after a complaint was filed in court alleging that it had been used for “immoral purposes,” reported Arab News. “What was uncovered was against both our religion and our traditions,” Brigadier Yousuf Matter of the Civil Police said at the time, without providing any more details.

Internet usage is already heavily censored in the kingdom; sites dealing with porn, dating, gambling, alcohol, drugs, and homosexuality are all banned. So there is a question over why the Saudi government feels it needs to make the rules even stricter. And if they have details of all the users, why do they need hidden cameras? Such rules will surely prompt more people to get internet access at home, and reduce the number of people visiting internet cafés.

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