Saudi Regulator Wants to Know if Telecoms are Ready to Block WhatsApp

Saudi Arabia’s telecoms regulator, the Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC), has sent a letter to service providers in the country asking them if they have the technical capacity to block popular instant messaging app WhatsApp, the daily al-Hayat reported on Sunday.

“The three companies (STC, Mobily and Zain) will respond positively to CITC request,” an unnamed source at one of the telecoms told the newspaper. The source was described by al-Hayat as a “technician” who said while CITC has asked about the ability to block WhatsApp, the regulator has not asked telecom companies to block it yet. Technically, the companies can block WhatsApp anytime they want and anytime CITC asks them, the source said.

On June 5 CITC blocked Viber, another instant messaging app, saying it has failed to meet the regulatory requirement of Saudi Arabia. CITC has also indicated that other popular messaging apps like WhatsApp and Skype still do not meet these requirements. Those apps are currently “under review,” CITC said.

An American security expert known as Moxie Marlinspike said last month that Saudi telecom Mobily has approached him to help them organize a program to monitor messaging apps. Moxie wrote that Mobily told him they already have a working prototype to intercept messages sent via WhatsApp. Mobily denied asking Moxie for help.

It is still unclear if CITC will go ahead and order the telecoms to block WhatsApp as such decision is likely to cause a negative backlash by the Saudi public considering the great popularity of the messaging app. A source at one telecom company told Riyadh Bureau last month they estimate the number of WhastApp users in Saudi Arabia to be around 12 million out of 28 million population.

Photo courtesy of Simon Q via Flickr