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Does Saudi Arabia Plan to Link Its Twitter Users to National IDs?

The Saudi government may be contemplating the possibility of linking the Twitter accounts of users in its country to national IDs, effectively ending anonymity, if reports from the country's local media are correct.

Arab News reported Saturday that the country's Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) is studying such a possibility, a move that one CITC source described as "a natural result of the successful implementation of CITC's decision to add a user's identification numbers while topping up mobile phone credit."  Reuters picked up the story and also reported on it early Saturday.

However, a Saudi blogger reported shortly after the Reuters article ran Saturday that the original story from Arab News, titled "Twitter May be Linked to IDs," has since been deleted.  The blog post provides screenshots of cached versions of the story as it appeared online and in mobile format, as well as in print form.

The coverage comes after other local Saudi news outlets reported last week that the Saudi kingdom has been pressuring its telecommunications providers to inquire about monitoring and blocking controls from the operators of free Internet messenger applications, such as Skype.  The Saudi government is said to have been concerned about content from users that is critical of its policies and of the actions of its police force, according to the Reuters article.

"Early this month, the security spokesman for Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry described social networking, particularly Twitter, as a tool used by militants to stir social unrest.

The country's Grand Mufti, Saudi Arabia's top cleric, last week described users of the microblogging site as "clowns" wasting time with frivolous and even harmful discussions, local newspapers reported."   [...]

"There are people who misuse the social networking and try to send false information and false evaluation of the situation in the kingdom and the way the policemen in the kingdom are dealing with these situations," said Major General Mansour Turki, the security spokesman, at a news conference on Mar 8.

At a separate interview with Reuters this month, Turki argued that a small number of supporters of al Qaeda and activists from Saudi Arabia's Shi'ite minority used social media to stir wider sympathy for their goals and social unrest."

However, one industry source claims that the move to ban such messaging applications is actually being driven by the telecom operators themselves, according to a Middle East Online report.

"An industry source said telecom operators were behind the move, accusing the STC, along with Mobily and Zain, of asking the commission to impose censorship due to the "damage" caused by the free-of-charge applications."

If the reports of the Saudi government's interest in linking Twitter users' accounts to national IDs are accurate, it would leave many Saudis with a multitude of concerns, outside of just wanting to keep their anonymity.  BBC reported:

"Saudis see this latest threat a little differently, our correspondent says. Any move to monitor or block sites like Skype and WhatsApp would potentially deprive them of what has become an essential means of simply communicating with friends and family.

One Saudi user told the local media that she would feel uncomfortable talking to her relative on Skype without her hijab (headscarf) if she believed someone might be monitoring her.

Expatriate workers have messaged newspapers pleading with the Saudis not to stop their only affordable means of communication to their families back home."

It should also be noted that one of Twitter's significant investors is Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a Saudi Arabian billionaire and nephew of King Abdullah.

It is not known why Saturday's  publication of the story at Arab News titled, "Twitter May be Linked to IDs" no longer appears on its website.


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