Saudi Arabia defends app that allows men to monitor wives, daughters
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Saudi Arabia defends app that allows men to monitor wives, daughters

Riyadh says outcry is an attempt to politicize Absher service, after US senator joins calls for Apple and Google to remove it from stores

A student at the female-only campus of Effat University, sits for the first time in the driver's seat, during training sponsored by Ford Motor, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, March 6, 2018. (AP/Amr Nabil)
A student at the female-only campus of Effat University, sits for the first time in the driver's seat, during training sponsored by Ford Motor, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, March 6, 2018. (AP/Amr Nabil)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia on Saturday defended a mobile app that allows men in the kingdom to track female relatives after rights groups and a US lawmaker criticized tech giants for offering it.

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 free app is available on Android and Apple smartphones and allows users to renew passports, visas and eases a variety of other electronic services.

But critics have said the app enables abuse against women and girls by allowing men to track their movements.

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

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

Portraits of Saudi King Salman (R) and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in Riyadh one day before the Future Investment Initiative FII conference that will take place in Riyadh from 23-25 October (FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP)

Under Saudi law, women must have consent from a husband or immediate male relative to renew passports or leave the country.

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

It rejected what it described as “attempts to politicize” the tool.

This comes as Saudi Arabia faces intense scrutiny over the shocking murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, which has renewed criticism of the kingdom’s rights record.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has garnered international attention with his rapid rise to power and promise of social and economic reforms.

But the kingdom has detained a number of human rights and women campaigners, some of them accused of undermining national security, with scant public information about their whereabouts or the legal status of their cases.

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