The downside of street photography in Saudi Arabia

The emergence of social media websites, coupled with the Kingdom’s high Internet adoption rate, has made it possible for Saudis to post and exchange photos

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Taking photos in public, once an unthinkable social breach is now the norm thanks to smart phones.

The emergence of social media websites, coupled with the Kingdom’s high Internet adoption rate, has made it possible for Saudis to post and exchange photos they take with their smart phone cameras in real time.

However, sometimes the photos taken can offend members of society and this has created a debate on the issue of privacy rights, Al-Riyadh daily reported.

It seems that the majority of Saudis as well as members of the expatriate community are unaware of the Kingdom’s cybercrime law, which sets out penalty and fines for such actions.

For example, Article 3 of the law sets a penalty of one-year imprisonment or a fine that does not exceed SR500,000 for anyone who uses a cell phone to take a picture that violates the privacy rights of others and then posts the picture on social media websites.

Taking pictures as a hobby can lead you straight to prison if you violate the cybercrime law and post the picture online.

Suhair Al-Ghamdi, public relations officer, said it is important to get permission before taking pictures of anyone in public.

She complained about amateur photographers who take pictures of visitors — male and female — at exhibition venues and then upload them online.

“There are conservative families who don’t want to see the photos of their daughters in newspapers, let alone the Internet.

If an amateur photographer takes a picture of a lady who belongs to such family and posts it online, she will be in trouble over it through no fault of her own,” Al-Ghamdi said.

“Snapchat, a photo messaging application, has become popular among girls and many take pictures of themselves at restaurants and malls and upload the photos through the Snapchat application.

A girl might not realize the trouble she can get into over this, especially if she takes a picture by mistake of another woman sitting behind her,” she added.

Fahd Al-Rebaee, an engineer at Jazan College of Technology, agrees that photography has been the most popular activity among young men and women.

“We should respect the privacy of others and use technology for purposes that serve our society well.

It is okay to take a photo of a manhole and send it to your friends to warn them against it,” he said, while adding that there is no harm in taking a picture of an accident as long as it does not expose the injured.

Abdulmajeed Al-Sabt, a citizen, warned against taking pictures of women in public and publishing them online or in newspapers.

“Such pictures can bring a lot of harm to women, even if the picture shows only a partial view of her,” he said.

Mai Al-Suwaigh, a college student, said: “We live in a conservative society. Taking a picture of a random person on the street can harm the person and the photographer.

Let’s not forget we have a cybercrime law now. As an amateur photographer, I always ask for permission before taking a picture,” she said.

Official permit

Abdulaziz Al-Aqeel, adviser to general supervisor for local media, Ministry of Culture and Information, said no one should engage in street photography without getting a permit from the ministry beforehand.

“A photographer who attends an event should wear a badge that shows what organization he or she works for.

A photographer should not publish or post a photo online without the permission of the person appearing in the photo,” Al-Aqeel said.

Jawaher Al-Nahari, director of women’s affairs at the Human Rights Commission (HRC), Makkah Province, said the government has enforced laws to protect the privacy of all members of society.

“Unfortunately, many are unaware of such laws and the risks they could put themselves through,” Al-Nahari said.

The HRC has recently held numerous lectures to spread the culture of human rights and emphasize the privacy of members of society.

Muhammad Al-Mahmoud, legal consultant, said a significant number of people got themselves in trouble by taking pictures in public places.

He cited Article 159 of the Criminal Procedures Law, which prohibits videotaping beheading and flogging incidents.

The cybercrime law, issued in 2007, considers posting a photograph of someone online without his knowledge as more heinous than naming and shaming the person in a newspaper.

Dr. Abdullah Al-Asmari, social and psychological counselor, said the spread of photography as a hobby has increased the rate of incidents where men blackmail women over photos.

“A woman who becomes a victim of blackmailing can suffer from panic attacks for fear that her photos will be posted online,” he said.

He also criticized people who use their cell phone cameras to capture horrific scenes of road accident victims.

“Posting such photos online will add salt to the wounds of the victims’ families who will feel great pain watching their beloved ones die,” he said.

He cited the beheading of a Burmese woman, which took place in Makkah a few weeks ago.

“The person who captured the scene on his camera and posted it on social media websites caused great pain to the family members of the woman.

Such scenes can cause detrimental effects to her family members, including depression, severe anxiety and social withdrawal.

It is important that authorities educate the public about the dangers and risks of recording such incidents,” he said.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Feb. 7, 2015.

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