The Saudi government can track runaway women within feet of their location through cell phone IMEI code.
Rabat – Women who have run away from their lives in Saudi Arabia anonymously shared that the government had attempted to use their cell phone’s International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) to track them down and bring them back to the Kingdom.
Two women told Business Insider that Saudi government officials asked their families for their cell phone packaging, claiming they needed it to find them.
A third woman, who has since been brought back to Saudi Arabia, said her lawyer informed her that her IMEI code was used to track her down.
An IMEI is a 15-digit ID number unique to each cellphone and is separate from a SIM number – changing one’s IMEI code means replacing the entire device, not just the SIM card.
Every time a cell phone connects to a tower, it shares its identification information, including the IMEI code. With this information, it is possible to track an individual to within feet of their location.
Using the code to track individual’s locations is neither new nor complex technology – the number is often printed on a phone’s SIM tray and the outside of the original packaging – but is usually reserved for use only by the police, military, or national intelligence bodies.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman initially drew positive international response when he included advancing women’s rights as part of his formal plan – known as Saudi Vision 2030 – to modernize the nation.
Since then, Saudi women have gained the right to drive and men are no longer able to file for divorce without informing their wives.
Women run away for different reasons, but the Saudi guardian law that requires women to have permission from a man to do things like marry, work, or travel has been cited as a common motive according to Human Rights Watch.
Runaway Saudi women are typically trying to secure asylum in another country so they are protected from being forcibly brought back to the Kingdom.
The trend has recently drawn greater attention following high profile runaways like 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed, who live-streamed her escape on social media in January before being granted asylum in Canada.
In response to public attention to the trend, the Saudi government created a video that compared runaway women to jihadist terrorist operatives.