Saudi Defends Smartphone App Allowing Men to Monitor Women Relatives

Saudi women walk outside a shopping mall in Riyadh on June 22, 2012. Saudi female activists have cancelled their plan to brave a driving ban, settling instead for petitioning King Abdullah to allow them to get behind the wheel, members of their group said. AFP PHOTO/FAYEZ NURELDINE (Photo credit should …

Saudi Arabia defended a smartphone app Saturday which allows men to track women’s movements and potentially “stop them leaving the country.”

The Absher app provides services for “all members of the society… including women, the elderly, and people with special needs”, the interior ministry said.

The government’s claim that the app is a harmless piece of freely available software runs counter to its many critics both inside and outside the strict Islamic kingdom.

As Breitbart News reported, according to Insider, Absher — which is available on Google’s Play Storeand Apple’s App Store — is “a government web service which allows men to specify when and how women can cross Saudi borders, and to get close to real-time SMS updates when they travel.”

The SMS feature reportedly notifies men “when a woman uses her passport at a border crossing or airport check-in.”

Under Saudi law, women must have consent from a husband or immediate male relative to renew passports or approach a departure point.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told U.S. National Public Radio last week he had not heard of the app, but would “take a look at it”.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden has called on both Apple and Google to remove the app, arguing on Twitter it promotes “abusive practises against women”.

Amnesty International claimed the app was “another example of how the Saudi Arabian government has produced tools to limit women’s freedoms.”

The Saudi ministry rejected what it called a “systematic campaign aimed at questioning the purpose of the services”.

It also criticised what it described as “attempts to politicise” the tool.

AFP contributed to this report

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