IGF 2023 Town Hall #88 Ominous Clouds: Data Centers at Risk in Authoritarian Region


Data Privacy and Protection

Round Table - 60 Min


This session examines the risks associated with establishing major cloud centers in countries with weak privacy laws and a history of human rights abuse. Additionally, it highlights various efforts made by SMEX and other regional organizations to address this concerning trend.

The first part of the session will focus on the outcomes and findings of a comprehensive research conducted by SMEX on the development of cloud centers in GCC countries. Speakers will explain the research, shed light on different campaigns and projects aimed at raising awareness on the issue, monitor its development and help digital rights activists across the MENA region.
The second part will focus specifically on recent developments in the establishment of cloud centers in the GCC countries, especially the recent Google Data Centers in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Microsoft Data Center in Saudi Arabia and efforts to do investor advocacy with Google shareholders. This is interesting in light of the upcoming shareholder meeting in June 2023. SMEX and other regional organizations such as Access Now are working on different strategies to influence this vote. The outcome will have major repercussions on Human Rights in the whole MENA region and could set a precedent for Big Tech companies working on cloud regions.

The session will be livestreamed for online attendees, and the moderator will ensure that questions or concerns rising from the online public are addressed during the session.
To ensure the best possible experience for both online and onsite participants, this session will use a visual presentation (ppt or other formats) that highlights all main points. In addition, a Q&A at the end will help clarify any doubt or allow attendees to go back to a specific topic or point.
We will make sure to have a chat function for online participants to ask their questions or clarifications.


Marianne Rahme, SMEX
Nathan Silber, SMEX
Abed Kataya, SMEX
Ragheb Ghandour, SMEX (online)


Marianne Rahme, SMEX
Marwa Fatafta, Access Now
Nathan Silber, SMEX
Abed Kataya, SMEX
Ragheb Ghandour, SMEX (online)

All speakers are part of the MENA Alliance for Digital Rights

Onsite Moderator

Abed Kataya, SMEX

Online Moderator

Ragheb Ghandour, SMEX


Marianne Rahme, SMEX



Targets: This session will mainly address SDG 16.3, 16.6, 16.10 and 16b. Cloud centers in countries with mixed human rights records threaten freedom of expression and the right to privacy, giving states potential access to sensitive private information as well as a tool to enact power abuses towards activists and dissidents. Lax privacy laws, as well as a history of rights violation, put the data of citizens across the MENA region at risk; SMEX’s efforts are focused precisely on increased transparency and protection of privacy.