Media is one of the most influential pillars of social interaction that gathers opinions, ideas and concerns and, at its best, creates solutions. Nowadays, with the development of technology and the rapid evolution of social media, the concept of media has become more complex and diffused.
Social media has become an open platform for everyone to express their views. The downside is that infringement of privacy and cyberbullying have become widespread. In Saudi Arabia, the legal limits on the use of social media are defined by the Anti-Cyber Crime Law. The terms of this law are often exaggerated, and not communicated properly to the public.
First, the main aim of the law is to create a secure and protected society. It takes into consideration the community’s ethics, manners and interests. The system criminalizes the use of the Internet to wiretap others, or to gain unauthorized access to their data through hacking or other methods, for threats or extortion. Defamation is one of the most prominent crimes committed in relation to social media networks, and the Internet in general.
Anyone convicted of these crimes may be imprisoned for up to a year and/or fined up to $133,225.
The law also prescribes a penalty of imprisonment for up to four years and/or a fine of up to $799,353 for leaking data or damaging the information technology network, or blocking access to Internet services. This part of the law illustrates legislators’ determination to protect online access to both public and private services.
The law also aims to protect national security and the economy, by imposing the heaviest penalties — imprisonment for up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to $1,332,250 — on anyone convicted of establishing terrorist sites and assemblies, or even dealing with such matters, or of violating internal security data.
Public morality has a role in every Saudi law, and the Anti-Cyber Crime Law is no exception. It prescribes penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $799,353,000 for anyone convicted of using the Internet to infringe on religious boundaries and social morals and ethics. This includes the production of offending material, whether pornographic or drug-related, and human trafficking.
It should be clearly understood all these penalties apply not only to the creation of illegal content, but also to sharing it.
To encourage the public to report cybercrimes, the authorities have given courts the power to exempt from penalties those who do so. In cases where the perpetrator of a crime did not know they were violating the law, or before any harm has been caused, penalties may also be waived.
Finally, the Office of the Public Prosecutor is responsible for investigating cybercrimes, with assistance from the Communications and Information Technology Commission.
• Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif