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The growth of social media has resulted in an increase in online crimes or “cyber crimes” such as blackmail, embezzlement, defamation, hacking of accounts etc.
Social media users may find themselves committing so-called “cyber crimes” without knowing that they are committing a crime or that they could be jailed or fined for their actions. On the other hand, some social media users know that what they are doing constitutes illegal use of social media, but think that the authorities can’t or won’t trace them.
There have been many reports of arrests and prosecutions of social media users (including many social media celebrities) for cyber crimes involving the use of social media. Consequently, it is important to understand the cyber crimes that most commonly land social media users in trouble and how victims and the authorities are able to take action in response to such cyber crimes when they occur.
Cyber crime can be simply defined as ‘a crime committed by using a computer or the internet.’ Many actions may be considered a cyber crime, including gaining unauthorized access through the internet to someone else’s information or credit card data, supporting terrorist organizations or defaming someone. The Saudi Anti-Cyber Crime Law sets out all cyber crimes and their associated penalties.
The Saudi Anti-Cyber Crime Law aims to secure the safe exchange of data, protect the rights of users of the computers and the internet, and to protect the public interest and morals as well as people’s privacy.
We will address in this article only the cyber crimes that may be committed by using social media as well as the penalties for each of these crimes in accordance with the Saudi Anti-Cyber Crime Law.
A cyber crime can occur as a main crime (e.g. by transmitting illegal content) or it may be associated with another crime (e.g. transmitting content evidencing drug procession or use). A number of cyber crimes can be committed by using social media and each of these has a penalty.
The following is a list of the main cyber crimes which are committed by use of social media, set out together with their associated penalties and the procedures for making a complaint. These have been grouped into three categories according to the seriousness of their associated penalties.
Whoever commits any one of the above cyber crimes shall be punished by imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year and or a fine not exceeding SAR 500,000.
Anyone who is a victim of one of these cyber crimes and wishes to file a complaint against the perpetrator must do so by the following procedure:
As an aside, there has been a controversy between the Criminal Court and the Electronic and Audiovisual Publishing Disputes Committee about which tribunal has jurisdiction over this kind of case. During the course of this controversy a number of cases in the categories listed above were dismissed by the Criminal Court due to a perceived lack of jurisdiction. The Saudi Supreme Judicial Council has, however, settled this debate and has recognised that the jurisdiction in these cases belongs to the Criminal Court.
There have been numerous reports of Twitter accounts and Instagram accounts being hacked with the result that the owner of the account is not able to access his or her account, sometimes losing many followers.
Whoever obtains unauthorised access to a user’s account and prevents or obstructs access to it shall be punished by imprisonment for a term not exceeding four years and or a fine not exceeding SAR 3,000,000.
The procedure for filing a complaint is the same as set out above.
Whoever commits any of the above crimes shall be punished by imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years and or a fine not exceeding SAR 3,000,000.
Different procedures apply in relation to the cyber crimes in this last group. Only the related authorities at the Ministry of Internal Affaires may report to the BIPP a case in relation to these cyber crimes and no one can join any such case seeking damages, since the crime itself typically doesn’t affect a particular natural or legal person, but rather violates public order, morality and health.
From the foregoing it is clear that social media users should take care when using social media and should be mindful at all times of their rights and obligations under the Saudi Anti-Cyber Crime Law. The social media providers have lofty goals to make life, and communions between people from different countries, cultures, and faiths, easier. We just addressed in this article the illegal use (bad behaviour of same users) of the social media.
Learn how our litigation practices offer law assistance for matters relating to cybercrime in Saudi Arabia.
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