The Risks of Using VPNs in Saudi Arabia
If you’re an expatriate living in Saudi Arabia, it’s crucial to be aware of the country’s stringent internet regulations. The use of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) to access blocked websites or apps is a significant legal issue here. Despite their popularity for bypassing restrictions, the consequences of being caught with a VPN on your mobile device are severe. You could face a hefty fine of up to 1 million riyals, a year in prison, or both. Saudi authorities, including the police, are actively searching for VPN users, and legal action is swiftly taken against offenders.
VPNs Seem Attractive but are Dangerous
Many visitors and expatriate residents turn to VPNs to access services like audio and video calling on WhatsApp, which is banned in the country. The ease of accessing prohibited websites and apps makes VPNs appealing, but this comes with a lack of awareness about the legal risks involved. Remember, even if a VPN is hidden on your phone, it can be easily detected during inspections. Under the Saudi Anti-Cyber Crime Act Rule 3, accessing banned websites can lead to a fine of 500,000 riyals.
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Banned Online Content in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has banned approximately 60,000 websites for reasons ranging from containing sexual content to promoting viewpoints contrary to the country’s values. This includes sites with semi-nudity, those supporting LGBT rights, dating platforms, and news portals with content against state and its policies. Additionally, websites promoting hatred, violence, or sectarianism, along with those linked to terrorism, are prohibited. Even sites that spread misinformation about Islam or offer hacking software are off-limits.
The Scope of CITC’s Bans
The Communications, Space and Technology Commission (CITC) of Saudi Arabia has a broad reach in its internet censorship. It doesn’t just stop at websites with objectionable content; it also includes shopping sites selling unauthorized products, platforms offering alcohol and drugs, and portals known for slander and abuse. Gambling and online betting sites, along with VPN providers themselves, are also banned. Attempting to access these sites through a VPN or other means can result in a fine of up to 500,000 Riyals.
Conclusion: Caution is Key
As an expatriate in Saudi Arabia, it’s essential to respect and adhere to the local laws, especially those governing internet use. The convenience offered by VPNs is outweighed by the severe penalties for their use. Staying informed and cautious is the best approach to avoid legal troubles and ensure a trouble-free stay in the Kingdom.