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Saudi Arabia to gather fingerprints of mobile phone users

The Saudi Ministry of Interior passed the new law to try and curb mobile phone users from engaging in activities that 'threaten national security'
Saudi fans before the start of the friendly football match between Saudi Arabia and Australia (AFP)

Saudi Arabia has begun to fingerprint anyone looking to buy a SIM card as a security measure, with the first phase of the new law going into effect on Tuesday, according to reports. 

London-based Saudi newspaper al-Hayat reported that fingerprint data will be shared with the kingdom’s National Information Centre to “confirm the identity of the buyer” who purchases a SIM card.

The report said that Saudis must give fingerprints to access “services provided by employees of the communications sector,” so it remains unclear whether the new law will apply just to SIM cards or to wider internet-related activity.

A source working in the communications industry told Hayat: “The first phase of the fingerprinting scheme is being implemented from today (Tuesday). The decision was taken last year but implementation has been delayed until this year because some of the mobile phone companies working in the kingdom had to get fingerprint-reading equipment from outside Saudi Arabia.”

The law was initially passed on 2 September 2015, according to Hayat, after the Ministry of Interior requested authorities step up efforts to stop people using mobile phones for purposes that “threaten national security”.

Saudi Arabia has suffered several deadly bombings over the past year claimed by militants associated with the Islamic State group. Attacks have targeted Shia mosques in the kingdom’s east and security services in the south.

All mobile phone companies must comply with the new rules on purchasing SIM cards, Hayat reported.

A previous attempt by Saudi authorities in 2012 to regulate mobile phone usage, which required users to give their residence numbers or otherwise prove their identity before purchase, failed.

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