Manama: Spying on a spouse in Saudi Arabia could potentially lead to a fine of SR500,000 ($133,000) and a prison term for a year after the kingdom’s Anti-Cybercrime Law criminalised mobile and computer snooping.

The law, which came into force last week, is part of a larger initiative to strengthen information security, preserve the rights of internet users, as well as to protect morals of individuals and society and protect privacy.

Article Three of the law states that “the punishment ranges from imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, and a fine of not more than SR500,000 or either one of these penalties” in case a man or his wife spies on each other through a mobile phone.

The law criminalises “spying on, intercepting or receiving data transmitted through an information network or a computer without legitimate authorisation”, and “unlawful access to computers with intention to threaten or blackmail any person to compel him to take or refrain from taking an action, be it lawful or unlawful.”

Harsher punishment has also been stipulated for “unlawful access to computers with the intention to delete, destroy, leak, damage, alter or redistribute private data”.

Such offenders could be jailed for a up to four years and fined up to SR3 million.

Saudi officials said that the move was significant after the growth of social media has resulted in a steady increase in cybercrimes such as blackmail, embezzlement, defamation and hacking of accounts.

“Internet users may find themselves committing cybercrimes without knowing that they could be jailed or fined for their actions,” the International Communication Centre said in a statement. “On the other hand, some internet users know that what they are doing constitutes illegal use of the internet or social media, but think that the authorities cannot or will not find them.”