Saudi’s government eService app tracks and restricts women’s movement

17 Feb 2019

Absher, the official app for eServices of the Saudi Ministry of Interior’s National Information Center in Saudi Arabia, allows men to track and restrict the movement to women. It sends text messages to men when their wife or daughter tries to use their passport and men can use it to alert airports in Saudi Arabia to catch a woman in case the is trying to travel without permission or flee Saudi Arabia. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden sent an open letter to Apple and Google chief executive officers, Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, urging them to ‘immediately remove from your app stores the Saudi government’s Absher app, which enables Saudi men to track and control the movements of Saudi women.’ Wyden asked them to prevent technical infrastructure, including app stores, from being used by Saudi government to enable ‘abhorrent surveillance and control of women.’ Cook was not familiar with the case, but promised the company will look into it and consider next steps on Apple’s App Store. A spokesman for Google said the company has also started investigating the app hosted on Google Play Store in order to determine if it is in accordance with its policies.

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Women's rights online address online aspects of traditional women rights with respect to discrimination in the exercise of rights, the right to hold office, the right to equal pay and the right to education. Women represent more than half of the world’s population, yet their participation in technology-mediated processes is an area where progress is still needed.

Privacy and data protection are two interrelated Internet governance issues. Data protection is a legal mechanism that ensures privacy. Privacy is usually defined as the right of any citizen to control their own personal information and to decide about it (to disclose information or not). Privacy is a fundamental human right. It is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in many other international and regional human rights conventions. The July 2015 appointment of the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age reflects the rising importance of privacy in global digital policy, and the recognition of the need to address privacy rights issues the the global, as well as national levels.

 

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