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Saudi Domestic Surveillance

Saudi Domestic Surveillance

Though Saudi women can now legally drive automobiles, they still can't apply for a passport without permission from a male guardian. Once they have a passport, male approval is required for travel abroad. It's one thing for the state to allow women new freedoms. It's quite another for women to expect their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons to allow them to enjoy them.

Last week, reports emerged in Western media that Saudi men have a secret weapon in their fight to limit female freedom. An app known as Absher, linked to a Saudi government system but hosted by Apple and Google, allows male Saudis to track their "dependents" by name and passport number and then limit their ability to travel. They can also enable a feature that sends them a text message when a listed woman uses her passport at an airport or border crossing. With just a few clicks, Saudi men can then use this tool to specify when and where female family members are permitted to travel and to revoke travel permission.

It's yet another example of the collision between economic needs, political reform, social change, and technological development.


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