Saudi Arabians are using a mobile app sold by both Apple and Google to snitch on their fellow citizens for dissenting against government authorities. As a result, activists and others are going to prison for more than 30 years in some cases, Business Insider reported on Friday.
On August 16, Saudi national Salma el-Shabab, a PhD student at Leeds University, was sentenced to 34 years in prison for tweets “in support of activists and members of the kingdom’s political opposition in exile,” the report said. Though the posts were made while she was in the UK, el-Shabab was nonetheless reported through the “Kollona Amn” app and immediately arrested upon returning home.
“Every day we wake up to hear news, somebody has been arrested, or somebody has been taken,” Real, a Saudi women’s-rights activist using an alias, told Insider.
Kollona Amn – which roughly translates to “We Are All Security” in Arabic – was launched by the Saudi Interior Ministry in 2017, but the last few years have seen a “dramatic” surge in court cases referencing the app, according to legal-rights activists.
The app “encourages everyday citizens to play the role of police and become active participants in their own repression. Putting the state’s eyes everywhere also creates a pervasive sense of uncertainty – there is always a potential informant in the room or following your social media accounts,” said Noura Aljizawi, a researcher at Citizen Lab, which focuses on threats to free speech online.
The Orwellian nature of the app is such that users often report on people “defensively,” fearing they could face punishment themselves for merely overhearing speech deemed offensive to the regime. In some cases, the app has also been used for “blackmail” and to “settle scores,” Insider noted.