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CITC warns Skype, Viber, WhatsApp

Last updated: Sunday, March 31, 2013 11:51 PM

RIYADH – The Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) said Sunday that it will take “suitable measures” if providers of Internet messaging applications such as WhatsApp fail to comply with its rules. The move comes a week after the government warned providers to comply with government regulations.

Internet applications such as Skype and Viber are also at risk of being banned if they do not meet the government’s specific requirements.

“Some telecom applications over the Internet protocol currently do not meet the regulatory conditions,” CITC said in a statement.

“The Commission has informed licensed (telecom) providers of the need to work with the developers of these applications to quickly meet these requirements.”

“The Commission will take suitable measures regarding these applications and services if those conditions are not met,” it said.

The statement listed Voice over IP (VoIP) providers Skype and Viber as well as Internet-based instant messaging service WhatsApp.

The CITC said it was acting to “protect society from any negative aspects that could harm the public interest.”

Earlier this week, industry sources told a news agency that authorities had asked telecom providers to furnish a means of control to allow for government rules. Providers were reportedly given a week to comply.

The move echoes the efforts of the neighboring United Arab Emirates, whose government has already blocked most Skype applications and Viber calls. WhatsApp messenger remains accessible in the country.

Minister for Culture and Information Abdul Aziz Khoja called on citizens to “raise their awareness” and contribute to the ministry’s scheme. “People have to take care of what they are writing on Twitter,” the minister said in a February statement. In 2010, Saudi Arabia banned the use of Blackberry phones to send and receive messages, citing concerns that the communications were encrypted and could not be monitored, therefore hindering the country’s efforts to fight terrorism and crime.

Mobile penetration was 188 percent by the end of 2012, CITC data shows. Saudi Arabia now has 15.8 million Internet subscribers and the average user watches three times as many online videos per day as counterparts in the United States, according to YouTube.

Telecom operators can block content and access to particular sites, but this becomes more difficult if a user already has the application installed on a device.

For example, Skype and other foreign-based VoIP providers are widely used in the neighboring United Arab Emirates, despite an official ban, with residents downloading the software via virtual private networks or while abroad. Once installed, these can be used inside the UAE. – Agencies

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