The increasing tendency among Saudis to document the mistakes committed by officials and civil servants against the public has stirred controversy in the kingdom with some seeing it as a violation of privacy and others finding it necessary to guarantee that citizens get the best treatment.
Social networking websites have recently witnessed a spate of video clips that show government employees mistreating citizens, making the employee in question the subject of harsh criticism in the media.
A common example of such a video features an employee shouting at a citizen or asking someone to leave his office.
According to civil servant Abdullah al-Ghamdi, an employee is after all a human being that can make mistakes.
“When you see the video you cannot tell how much pressure the employee has been subjected to before behaving in this way,” he told Al Arabiya.
It is also not fair, he added, to evaluate a specific employee based on one video of him losing his temper.
“How do you know if this isn’t the only time throughout his career that he did such a thing?”
Ghamdi argued that filming such encounters will not solve the problem and that there are several ways citizens can air their grievances.
Nasser al-Amoudi agreed as far as not judging an employee by one video.
“Perhaps the clip is taken out of context and does not show the entire situation,” he told Al Arabiya.
Amoudi added that those videos are bound to intimidate civil servants who may then limit public access to their offices.
“They will gradually feel reluctant to meet the public and will most likely reduce any field trips some officials take.”
However, some people believe that filming violations is one of the best means of curbing them.
“When employees know that they might be filmed, they will make sure they better their performance and offer citizens the best service,” Mansour Mohsen, a government employee, told Al Arabiya.
For Mohsen, those videos will encourage employees to exercise some kind of self-censorship.
“They will be careful not to commit any mistakes for fear they might be filmed.”
University student, Fouad al-Ansari, says the fourth authority is no longer the only press as now other media can be used for the same purpose, i.e. exposing violations.
“Documenting violations in audio and video is the job of the new media that can capture what exactly happens behind closed doors.”
For sociologist Mansour al-Sabban, resorting to clandestine filming widens the gap between employees and citizens.
“Citizens want to hold employees accountable for their mistakes, but they end up slandering them,” he told Al Arabiya.
Sabban explained that in case citizens want to complain of an employee’s performance, there are legal channels available to them.
Filming employees, Sabban added, is one of the many examples of misuse of modern technology for purposes other than the ones for which they were made.
“This is a social problem from which Saudi and several other countries suffer.”
Regarding the legality of the filming, lawyer Khaled Abu Rashed said that taking photographs and filming videos are not illegal actions as long as they are not done in restricted areas or private homes.
“However, if the clip is taken out of context or is filmed for the purpose of slandering the person involved then it becomes illegal and is punishable by up to one year in prison and/ or a fine,” he told Al Arabiya.
Lawyer Abdullah al-Maliki argued that filming people without their knowledge is illegal irrespective of the purpose.
“This is an infringement on privacy and is not a lot different from stealing,” he told Al Arabiya.
In the case of government employees, Maliki added, it will become only legal if citizens get official permission from the relevant authorities.
Maliki added that in all cases, the clips filmed by citizens will not lead to any legal action against the employees.
“Those clips are legally useless as long as they are not done based on a court order.”
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)