Sunday, June 20, 2021
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Saudi’s Human Rights Track Record Says It All: Google Must Halt Plans To Open Cloud In Kingdom

People in Saudi Arabia have the right to protect their
personal data and information from the prying eyes of the
government. Against a backdrop of Saudi Arabia’s ongoing
human rights abuses,
citizens are now facing further human rights risks with
Google’s plans of establishing a Cloud region in the
country. In December 2020, Google announced
it will be expanding and opening a cloud center in the
Kingdom. Access Now, along with 39 organizations
& individuals are urging Google to immediately halt
these plans until it outlines clear steps for how it intends
to mitigate adverse human rights

“Establishing a Google Cloud in
Saudi Arabia — a state with an atrocious track record of
human rights abuses — is a dangerous plan,” said
Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy Manager at Access
. “Ripe for exploitation, Google is handing
over personal data directly into the palms of a brutal
regime who has spared no effort to oppress and spy on its

On January
26, 2021
, Access Now and the Canadian Internet Policy
and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) raised the alarm, and
requested information
from Google
on the due diligence process it has carried
out. In its
, Google reiterated its commitment to human rights,
stating that “an independent human rights assessment was
conducted for the Google Cloud Region in Saudi Arabia,”
taking all necessary steps to address matters that the
groups raised. Google did not, however, specify what those
steps were or whether consultations were held with
potentially affected users.

With Saudi Arabia’s
human rights track record, Google should uphold its human
rights commitments by:

  • Conducting a robust,
    thorough human rights due diligence process, and publishing
    a summary of findings, including steps it is taking to
    mitigate risks of adverse human rights
  • Drawing red lines around what types of
    government requests concerning Cloud regions it will not
    comply with because they are inconsistent with human rights
  • Insulating staff from extra-legal pressure to
    exceed their authorized access procedures and
  • Preventing or mitigating risks of adverse
    human rights impacts and clearly communicating steps it is
    taking to this end before implementing plans to build cloud
    regions in other countries; and
  • Developing baseline
    standards for where to host cloud services that take into
    account Google’s human rights responsibilities to guide
    expansion into new countries.

The government of
Saudi Arabia has a long history of silencing activists, human
and women’s rights defenders
, and journalists,
and violating the basic rights of its citizens through
extrajudicial killings, detention and torture, and the use
of spyware
to track and censor. This disturbing new step
by Google raises more concerns with fears that this cloud
center could leverage more power to the government of Saudi
Arabia in further facilitating human rights

Google and other cloud service providers —
including Microsoft,
who has operated in Saudi Arabian cloud centers since 2018,
and Amazon
Web Services (AWS)
, who opened its first cloud center in
the region in Bahrain in 2019 — have a responsibility to
protect people’s data as they expand their global cloud
footprints, especially in countries where they are already
at risk. It is crucial that these companies consult with
human rights organizations and potentially impacted
communities in order to develop baseline standards that
elevate their human rights responsibilities. When expanding
into new countries, Big Tech must implement the highest
standards of security around user data, draw red lines
around what types of government requests they will not
comply with, and be prepared to push back against those that
are inconsistent with human rights norms.

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