Saudi Arabia prohibits cellular camera phones - 09/30/04
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Thursday, September 30, 2004

Saudi Arabia prohibits cellular camera phones

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority has issued an edict barring the use of cell phones with built-in cameras, blaming them for "spreading obscenity" - a final resort after a ban on their sale and import to the kingdom failed to dent their popularity.

Camera cell phones have caught on fast throughout Asia, Europe and the Middle East, particularly in oil-rich Persian Gulf countries, prompting concerns about privacy in places where people undress, "theft" of reading materials at book stores and newsstands, and corporate espionage by employees.

As a result, the devices have been banned by gyms, retailers and companies in many nations. Even in the United States, where camera phones have taken longer to gain popularity, there is a bill in Congress that would make the taking of illicit photos on federal property a crime punishable by up to a year in prison and fines. The concern goes even further in conservative Muslim societies, where religious authorities complain camera phones are misused to photograph women without their knowledge.

Recently, a wedding in Saudi Arabia ended in a brawl over the photographing of women. and young men in the glitzy malls of the United Arab Emirates have been warned by police not to surreptitiously photograph female shoppers.

In Egypt, a women-only beach on the northern Mediterranean coast bars cameras and all cell phones are checked on entry to make sure they don't have cameras.

So far, however, only Saudi Arabia has taken the drastic step of banning the import or sale of camera cell phones and declaring them religiously forbidden. Cellular shutterbugs risk having their phones confiscated, being fined or even spending up to a year in jail.

Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al al-Sheik, Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority, announced the religious edict. The devices, he said, were "spreading obscenity in Muslim society. All citizens should renounce this (the use of cell phones with cameras) ... for it can harm everybody without discrimination." Violators "should be strictly confronted and punished."

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