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Saturday, 3 November, 2001, 23:00 GMT
Saudis pay to surf censored sites
Saudis surf the net
The internet was introduced in the late 1990s under strict controls
By the BBC's Middle East correspondent Frank Gardner in Saudi Arabia

Enterprising computer experts in Saudi Arabia are making money by evading the tight censorship controls on the internet, according to the local Saudi newspaper, Arab News.

The hackers charge between $30 to $70 a time for providing access to restricted websites

The Saudi Government has tried with limited success to stop its citizens from accessing pornographic and political controversial websites.

But where there is a will there is a way, and there is no shortage of people willing to pay to log onto forbidden websites.

It could be porn, it could be politics, but whatever is banned here in this conservative Muslim country is available somewhere - for a price.

According to Arab News, every computer centre in Riyadh has hackers on hand who can offer to gain access to pornographic material or people's private email accounts.

New phenomenon

The paper said the hackers charge between $30 to $70 a time for providing access to restricted websites.

The internet is a relatively new phenomenon here in Saudi Arabia.

It was only introduced in the late 1990s under strict government control.

The authorities set up a monitoring system in Riyadh under the name of the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology.

Government officials say they have a moral public duty to protect Saudi web surfers from what is called "undesirable material".

Public protection

But some officials have admitted privately that they are losing the battle to block their citizens from accessing forbidden websites.

Many relatively wealthy Saudis make up for the lack of recreation here by spending hours online.

Often they dial up a server in a neighbouring country or even in the US, so as to join in a free-speaking Arabic language chatroom, or else simply to download banned material at home.

The Saudi authorities appear powerless to stop those determined to evade the system of controls.

Outwitting censors

The most recent example is the website run by the London-based Saudi Islamic opposition, the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia.

Its leader, Dr Saad Al-Faqih, told the BBC how his group has outwitted the censors by frequently changing their domain name.

He says those who log on to his movement's website are sent an automated e-mail telling them the new domain name which then takes the Saudi authorities several days to block.

Meanhile the Arab News reported that the government does plan to introduce punishments for computer crime as part of a general law governing the use of the internet.

See also:

13 Aug 00 | Middle East
Saudi pulls plug on net porn
10 May 00 | Middle East
Saudis 'defeating' internet porn
17 Apr 00 | Middle East
Internet clampdown in Mecca
19 Jul 98 | Middle East
Saudis surrender to cyber reality
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