The use of the social media in Saudi Arabia has grown rapidly with almost every person who is over the age of 18 years in the country owning a social media account. The main social media account used in Saudi Arabia includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, and Snapchat. Increased use of the social media has led do major development in Saudi Arabia, including the emergence of cybercrime. There are various factors, including easy access to the internet, legal vacuum, and cultural issues, which have contributed to the problem of cybercrime in Saudi Arabia.
Access to the Internet
Saudi Arabia has undergone massive transformation since the 1930s after the discovery of oil. Saudi Arabia was transformed from a poor country to one of the richest countries in the world. The development of the country made internet one of the vital tools in day to day lives of people in the communities. Saudi’s use the internet at exceptional levels mainly to communicate with people from different parts of the world and buying products online. Having learned about the importance of the internet to their lives, new Saudis are turning to the internet to undertake different activities.
In a population of 32.3 million residents in Saudi Arabia, about 20.8 million use the internet in undertaking various activities (IstiZada, 2017). The majority of these users are between the ages of 16 and 35 years, which is the generation that is growing rapidly because over 50 percent of the population is under the age of 21 years (IstiZada, 2017). Most of the internet users in the Saudi Arabia live in urban areas where there are more wealth and high internet access, particularly at home, office and public areas.
People in the age of 16 and 35 years, in Saudi Arabia, are most active in the social media. Individuals in this age group join the social media for different reasons, which include interacting with their friends, expressing their opinions, and trading goods and services (Elnaim, 2013). The increased use of the social media has led to increased cases of cybercrime. The main cybercrimes, which are common in Saudi Arabia, include identity theft, phishing, blackmail, embezzlement, and defamation.
Some internet users in Saudi Arabia use social media cites like Twitter and Facebook to undertake criminal activities. One of the main criminal activities undertaken by social media users includes phishing where they fraudulently send emails to individual purporting to be staffs of reputable companies so as to access personal details like credit card number and passwords. Other Internet users are involved in identity theft where they use the details of other people, including then name, credit card number to identify themselves without the authority of the owner (Alarifi, Tootell & Hyland, 2012,). There is also a large group of internet users who use the social media to attack others through defamation which result into destroying the reputation of individuals. In a similar way, social media is used by young people in Saudi Arabia to perpetuate bullying, which in turns lead to psychological torture of the victim.
Increasing number of cybercrime in Saudi Arabia is highly contributed to easy access to the internet, particular to people in urban areas. This is because for the cybercrime to take place, the culprit must have access to the internet. Additionally, the environment where the cybercrimes are taking place must support internet activities. Cybercrime would not be possible in any country where people do not use the internet to communicate, interact or trade. Thus, easy access and increased use of the internet has led to the emergence of cybercrime problem in Saudi Arabia (Elnaim, 2013).
Table 1: Internet Usage in Saudi Arabia
Source: IstiZada (2017)
The Table 1 above presents data relating to Internet usage in Saudi Arabia. According to the table, the number of internet users in the country has been increasing every year from the year 2000. The table1 also shows that increase in internet users in Saudi Arabia increases with the increase in the population. Considering the fact that people use the internet in different ways, which could be legal or illegal, increased in numbers of internet users greatly contribute to the problem of cybercrime. The more there are people using the internet, the higher the chances that some of those internet users would be involved in cybercrime.
Although the internet infrastructure in Saudi Arabia has continued to grow, the legal relating to internet use is not developed (Ansary, 2008). This creates a situation where there are no clear laws relating to specific online activities. The increase in internet penetration in Saudi Arabia has led to the growth of e-commerce and e-government drives. However, due to lack of well-laid legal infrastructures many internet users are coming up with ways of undertaking cybercrimes, which are targeting e-business.
Lack of legal framework relating to online business in Saudi Arabia creates a situation whereby business transactions are undertaken in a legal vacuum. Lack of laws relating to various internet-related crimes encourages the online criminals because they understand that they are likely to evade punishment even when they are caught (Ansary, 2008).
The existing Internet-related law, for example, Anti-Cyber Crime Law of 2007, covers a wide range of activities without outlining specific rules on particular online activities. Although there are regulating agencies that have asked for the established of clear laws, nothing has been done. Additionally, even the general legal e-commerce laws have not been implemented by the relevant authority. This complicates the process of dealing with cybercrime in Saudi Arabia. As a result, internet users take advantage of the legal vacuum to undertake different cybercrimes, including embezzlement, identity theft, and phishing.
Another legal-related issue, which has contributed to the problem of cybercrime in Saudi Arabia related to the huge process of filing a complaint. In Saudi Arabia, Any person who is a victim of any cybercrime, and intends to sue the culprit must follow this procedure. The first step relates to reporting the crime to the police station. The officers in the police station are required to forward the report of the crime to Bureau of Investigation and Public Prosecution (BIPP) in the country so as to scrutinize the crime. Through the coordination of other agencies, BIPP undertakes investigation so as to identify the suspect (Elnaim, 2013). Once the suspect is identified, BIPP orders his interrogation, and the charge sheet is created and forwarded to the criminal court. Then, the victim has the right to join the public prosecution in the case, and demand compensation or damages.
The complicated and tedious process of seeking justice discourages people from prosecuting the offenders. Failure to prosecute those involved in cybercrime has contributed in worsening the problem.
Saudi Arabia is an original homeland to Islam and Arab people whereby the cultural identity expressed in the country relate to that of Arab and Muslim. One of the cultural aspects of people of Saudi Arabia relates to togetherness where people in the country belief on maintaining a connection with each other. With the development brought about by advancement in the level of technology, the connection among people in Saudi Arabia has been extended to the online platform. People in Saudi Arabia use the social media platform to communicate with their family members, friends and the business partners across the country and beyond (Basamh, Qudaih & Ibrahim, 2014). Through the interaction on the social media, the individuals share photos and videos, which can expose their personal details. With increase in the number of people accessing social media sites, those personal details can be noticed by cyber criminals who would use to carry out the cybercrime.
Another cultural issue, which has contributed to the problem of cybercrime in Saudi Arabia relates to the taboos observed by Arabs and Muslims in the country. It is a taboo for people in Saudi Arabia to discuss sex in public. It is also taboo for the Muslims to show love to the person of opposite sex in public. These taboos have greatly affected most young people in the country who feel that their cultural believes limit their behaviors on matters relating to love and sex (Alarifi, Tootell & Hyland, 2012). As a result, they have turned to the internet to explore matter related to sex, which has influenced them to take part in the exchange of pornographic materials. Publishing and exchanging through the social media have become one of the major cybercrime in Saudi Arabia.
Having discussed various factors that have contributed to the problem of cybercrime in Saudi Arabia, it is clear that there is a need for creation of ways of dealing with the problem. It is recommended for the government of Saudi Arabia to come up with laws, which are aimed at preventing cybercrime. Most cybercrimes are committed by people who owner accounts of specific social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. There is need to introduce a law which ensures that the management or the companies, which own those sites take the responsibility of banning people who are using the social media to undertake cybercrime. Thus, the government of Saudi Arabia, through the legislature needs to create law, which allows the relevant authorities in the country to initiate legal proceeding against specific social media sites for the failure to suspend and block accounts that are involved in cyber-crimes. The creation of such law will help in ensuring that social media sites are involved in monitoring all accounts to ensure that they are not used to cause harm to the people or the government of Saudi Arabia.
It is also recommended for the government to come up with Anti-Cybercrime laws that outline specific punishment of perpetrators of particular cybercrimes. The government should ensure that cyber criminals are faced with severe punishments. Creation and implementation of such law will help in discouraging people from getting involved in cybercrime for fear of prosecution. This in turns will help in reducing the problem of cybercrime in the country.
Another recommendation of dealing with cybercrime in Saudi Arabia relate to regulating the use of the internet in the country. One of the major contributors to the increased cases of cybercrime in Saudi Arabia is easy to access to the internet to a large part of the population. Thus, there is need to limit the use of the internet, particularly by blocking specific sites. The government needs to employ Information Technology (IT) experts to block sites that have pornography materials so as to make sure that people in Saudi Arabia, particularly the youths are not involved in publishing or distribution of pornographic materials through the internet.
It is also recommended for the judiciary in the country to country to amend the process of prosecuting the offenders of cybercrime. One of the reasons why cybercrime is a serious problem in Saudi Arabia relates to a complicated process of initiating legal proceeding against the offender of cybercrime. Thus, there is need to simplify the process of persecuting cybercrime offenders so as to encourage the victims to report the suspects and ensure that justice is realized.
It is also recommended for the government to create employment opportunities so as to ensure that large part of the population in Saudi Arabia is involved in economic activities. This will help in dealing with idleness, which influences people to engage in cybercrimes, particularly pornography. Creation of jobs will give people chances to earn a living, and deal poverty-related issues. By reducing the rate of poverty in the country, the number of cyber criminals will reduce. This is because most people are forced to engage in cybercrime, particularly hacking other people’s bank accounts or credit card with the aim of improving their financial stability.
Alarifi, A., Tootell, H., & Hyland, P. (2012, June). A study of information security awareness and practices in Saudi Arabia. In Communications and Information Technology (ICCIT), 2012 International Conference on (pp. 6-12). IEEE.
Ansary, A. F. (2008). Combating extremism: a brief overview of Saudi Arabia’s approach. Middle East Policy, 15(2), 111.
Basamh, S. S., Qudaih, H. A., & Ibrahim, J. (2014). An overview on cyber security awareness in Muslim countries. International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Research, 4(1), 21-24.
Elnaim, B. M. E. (2013). Cyber Crime in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: The Threat Today and the Expected Future. In Information and Knowledge Management (Vol. 3, No. 12, pp. 14-19).
Internet World Stats. (2016). Saudi Arabia internet usage, broadband and telecommunications reports. Retrieved from http://www.internetworldstats.com/me/sa.htm
IstiZada (2017) Saudi Arabia internet usage. Retrieved from http://istizada.com/saudi-arabia-internet-usage/