Kollona Amn is an app the Saudi Arabian government issued for its citizens to submit “traffic reports” directly to the police. Besides allowing citizens to report traffic-related incidents, the app also lets people report Internet incidents they deem worthy of reporting. With the app, individuals can attach photos, videos, and voice recordings on the app. The data will be shared with the concerned authorities.
The app asks for the person’s identity and phone number. After Kollona Amn verifies the mobile number with an OTP, it lets people in and uses the map to select the location of the incident.
The meaning of Kollona Amn in Arabic is “we are all security.” In the Google Play and Apple App store, it is described as allowing people of Saudi Arabia to “play the role of a police officer” by reporting an incident. However, recent events have shown that the app has been used in ways that question the safety of the country’s citizens.
There's a saudi Snitching app called "Kollona Amn" which means "we are all security". Where ordinary people rat on someone who criticized the government. What kind of a prick do u have to be to do that? @GooglePlay can you PLEASE take this app off? Its a digital Gestapo tool. pic.twitter.com/NmS2TlMhvn
— The Panarchist (@nocommentfornow) August 18, 2022
The app and public safety
The Saudi Arabian anti-cybercrime law enacted in 2007 identifies cybercrime as an activity that uses computers and internet networks against the country’s “public interest, morals, and common values.” However, according to Human Rights Watch and The Guardian, the reporting of “cybercrime” on the Kollona Amn app may have initiated the arrest of a 34-year-old Saudi Arabian woman, Salma Al-Shehab.
Al-Shehab is a women’s rights activist and a doctoral candidate at Leeds University in the UK who was given a sentence of 34 years in prison this August. Her account does not exist anymore, but the Guardian took a closer look at the account and revealed that the app might have been used for her arrest in 2021. Some Twitter accounts have admitted to reporting against her through Kollona Amn.
Two weeks ago, a similar sentence was given to a 72-year-old Saudi American, Saad Ibrahim Almadi. He has been sentenced to prison for 16 years in Saudi Arabia for criticizing the regime on Twitter. Just like Al-Shehab, Almadi was also informed on Twitter that he had been reported through the Kollona Amn app.
Saudia Arabia | Smart Cities
The Saudis are using a Google app to snitch on those who criticize the government, resulting in life sentences in prison
Saudi Arabian citizens are reporting activists that speak out against the government on the Kollona Amn app. pic.twitter.com/Tz9vDWpPep
— R (@Rumi_7797654322) September 24, 2022
Why is this app still in stores?
Another such app, the Absher app, also came under heavy criticism for what it does. It allows Saudi men to track their wives, daughters, or other women who may be under their “guardianship”. Now that changes in the law allow Saudi women to travel without getting permission from their male guardians, critics say the app is being used to restrict the free movement of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia.
The presence of such applications on iOS and Android smartphones has raised eyebrows, especially following recent events. While Apple and Google both have policies against apps that could cause physical harm or harassment, that does not seem to have impeded the continued presence of the Kollona Amn app in their stores.
While Apple reserves the right to reject an app that behaves in a way that harms the people, Google, strictly, does not allow such apps on their platform. However, with the existence of Kollona Amn and similar apps on smartphones, it can be used maliciously by users with ill intentions. This can, ultimately, be a threat to people’s safety and freedom.
Photo credit: The image is symbolic and has been taken by Andrey Popov.
Source: Nazih Osseiran (Reuters) / Saudi Arabia Anti-Cyber Crime Law / Human Rights Watch / Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Robyn Vinter (The Guardian) / Stephanie Kirchgaessner (The Guardian) / App Store / Google Play