Cyber Security And Data Privacy Law In Saudi Arabia

Cyber Security And Data Privacy Law In Saudi Arabia: Many people will be surprised to learn that there is currently no explicit data protection legislation in Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that cloud computing has achieved a level of maturity that some experts believe is ready for full commercial use. While major Cloud technology providers such as Microsoft and Google continue to invest billions of dollars each year in R&D, foreign companies operating in Saudi Arabia are still wrestling with legal challenges when it comes to using this technology due to the legal void. Because there are no particular data protection regulations, Saudi Arabian courts and adjudicatory authorities have a lot of leeway in dealing with data privacy violations based on broad Sharia principles.

Cyber Security And Data Privacy Law In Saudi Arabia
Cyber Security And Data Privacy Law In Saudi Arabia

[Picture Credit: istockphoto]

Cyber Security And Data protection in Saudi Arabia

Data protection in Saudi Arabia, Sharia, the legal system in Saudi Arabia, is based on a collection of general principles taken principally from the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah (the Prophet Muhammad’s reported sayings and actions), which are generally described in broad terms. Furthermore, the lack of a central location where adjudicator bodies’ rulings are routinely indexed, collected, and made publicly available, as well as the lack of a binding precedent system, further complicates the problem.

A variety of legislative instruments contain provisions relating to the sanctity and security of personal data. For example, The Key Law of Governance (also known as the Saudi Arabian Constitution) preserves individual privacy by saying that “property, capital, and labour are basic aspects of the kingdom’s economic and social structure.” According to Islamic Sharia, they are private rights that serve a social function.”

The Anti-Cyber Crime Law of 2007 outlaws the interception of data transmitted over an information network, while the Telecommunications Act of 2001 lays forth penalties for telecommunications privacy violations. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency’s Financial Consumer Protection Principles state that the financial and personal information of customers should be protected by financial institutions through suitable control and protection procedures.

The recently published ‘Draft Law of E-Commerce System’ by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in Saudi Arabia also requires a vendor to keep the personal information of the buyer, and any records of electronic communications with the client, safe whether the same are under its own custody or control, or transferred to the vendors’ agents or employees. The draught law also holds the vendor accountable for recordkeeping and requires it to take reasonable steps to guarantee that personal information is protected appropriately.

There is no legal or regulatory definition for the word “personal data.” There are also no official notification or registration procedures prior to data processing. In Saudi Arabia, no legislation or regulation defines a “data controller.” The Electronic Transactions Law only imposes some requirements on an ISP, such as maintaining the confidentiality of information collected in the course of business by the ISP and its employees.

Although royal decrees complement Sharia law with rules covering modern topics like intellectual property, business law, and cyber law, the lack of particular data protection legislation is confusing.

Due to the lack of a National Data Protector, personal data security breaches in Saudi Arabia are not reported to any individual or entity. When a corporation opts for third-party data processing, issues occur. Because there is no clear ‘data controller,’ the organization processing the data must abide by Sharia law, which is typically couched in broad terms. Furthermore, the company providing the data is still responsible for the data’s confidentiality.

There is currently no regulation governing the transfer of data outside of Saudi Arabia, though clearance from the competent regulatory authorities in some industries, such as the health sector, may be necessary.

There are no laws or regulations that govern data transfer agreements. National authorities and Saudi courts have not approved any standard form or precedent data transfer agreements. Employers in Saudi Arabia frequently include provisions in employment contracts to record employees’ consent to the use or disclosure of their data to third parties to the extent that such disclosures are required or anticipated, in light of applicable Sharia principles and in anticipation of the enactment of a proposed Data protection law in the future.

The Anti-cybercrime law

The Anti-Cybercrime Law was issued through a Royal Decree in Saudi Arabia in 2007. The law aims at combating cyber-crimes by identifying such crimes and determining their punishments to ensure information security, protection of rights pertaining to the legitimate use of computers and information networks, protection of public interest, morals and protection of the national economy.

Cybercrime is severely punished by the Saudi Ministry of Interior and the Communications and Information Technology Commission and penalties are imposed for identity theft, defamation, electronic piracy, email theft and other unlawful activities.

However, such penalties have had little effect on online attackers, as individuals determined to break into systems, steal information, and disrupt businesses are often believed to be more technologically advanced than those attempting to stop them. According to a recent yearly poll, about 45 percent of IT experts in the GCC report that their companies experienced at least one IT security incident in the previous year.

The Saudi government is revising the Anti-Cybercrime Law to include social networking services like Twitter in the punishment system for allowing accounts that encourage adultery, homosexuality, and atheism. Authorities suspect organized groups are behind deliberate attacks against Saudis who promote atheism, which is a serious issue in Saudi Arabia.

Traditional cyber security methods have many flaws, but there are also new and improved alternatives on the market. With social media becoming more widely used within businesses, cyber security vulnerabilities may also rise.

New Changes Regarding Personal Data Protection  Law in Saudi Arabia

This is only one of the numerous changes that the new DPL will bring. The DPL is based on the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which defines personal data and governs how it can be used, processed, and stored.

Personal data is defined as “any data on a specific person or about a person who can be identified directly or indirectly by linking the data.” “This expressly includes an individual’s name, address, telephone number, photograph, or any other personal information.” The new law mandates that any business that controls or processes personal data adhere to certain principles and requirements regarding data handling. Some of the most important principles are:

  • Principle 1: Accountability: The head of the entity (or his designee) must identify, document, and approve the Data Controller’s privacy policies and procedures before they are distributed to all interested parties.
  • Principle 2: Transparency: A notice of the Data Controller’s privacy policies and procedures – Privacy Notice – shall be prepared in plain, easy-to-understand language, indicating the purposes for which personal data will be gathered.
  • Principle 3: Choice and Consent: The purpose for collecting any personally identifying data must be made known to Data Subjects, and their (implicit or explicit) consent must be acquired prior to collection, use, or disclosure of personal data.
  • Principle 4: Data Collection Limits: Any personal data collected must be limited to the bare minimum required to meet the purposes outlined in the Privacy Notice.
  • Principle 5: Personal Data Use, Retention, and Destruction: The use of personal data shall be limited to the purposes specified in the Privacy Notice, which the Data Subject has tacitly or explicitly allowed. Furthermore, Data must be kept for as long as is required by law or for the purposes for which they were collected. Data must also be deleted in a secure manner to avoid leakage, loss, theft, abuse, or unauthorized access.
  • Principle 6: Data Access: Entities must provide a method for Data Subjects to review, update, and correct their personal information.
  • Principle 7: Data Disclosure Restriction: Disclosure of personal data to third parties is limited to the purposes specified in the Privacy Notice, which has been approved by the Data Subject.
  • Principle 8: Data Security: Personal data must be protected from leakage, damage, loss, theft, misuse, modification, or unauthorized access, in accordance with the National Cyber Security Authority’s and competent authorities’ controls.
  • Principle 9: Data Quality: Personal data must be kept only after it has been verified for correctness, completeness, and timeliness, and it must be directly related to the reasons stated in the Privacy Notice.
  • Principle 10: Monitoring and Compliance: The Data Controller’s privacy policies and processes will be monitored, and any privacy-related inquiries, complaints, or disputes will be resolved.

Similarities and Differences from the GDPR

The new regulation is similar to the GDPR, but there are some key differences. The constraints on data transfer across borders constitute a significant difference.

Generally speaking, “Data should not be transferred outside of the kingdom. However, if you must, you must adhere to specific guidelines. We’re still waiting for some implementation regulations to give us a better idea of what those conditions would be like “According to Wilkinson. “Companies that previously did not have to worry about data transfers to subsidiaries or holding companies inside the group, or to third parties outside the kingdom, would now have to ensure that they are done in accordance with the new law.”

Penalties are another area where the law differs from the GDPR. Certain violations of the DPL can result in fines of up to 5 million riyals ($1.3 million), as well as imprisonment for up to two years. It’s unclear how this will be implemented.


Although the new data protection law is still in its early stages, the supplementary regulations are expected to provide additional clarification on various aspects of the new law; with penalties for PDPL violations ranging from SAR5,000,000 (US$1,333,000) to imprisonment in some cases, they will be required reading for employers. All organizations operating in Saudi Arabia or processing the data of Saudi citizens should examine their data processing activities as soon as feasible and consider the modifications that will be required to achieve compliance with the PDPL.

Author: Anuja Saraswat – a student of  B.A.LL.B (Hons.) from NMIMS Kirit P. Mehta School of Law (Mumbai), in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email  or at Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorney.

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