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DUBAI (Reuters) - Spying on your spouse's phone in Saudi Arabia now carries a hefty fine and up to a year in prison, under a new law that aims to "protect morals of individuals and society and protect privacy".

The punishment will apply to both men and women in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom, according to a statement late on Monday by the ministry of culture.

But it could tend to protect husbands from their wives.

As in many other parts of the Muslim world, Saudi laws on divorce, inspired by scripture, often require wives seeking alimony to provide evidence of abuse or sexual promiscuity. A husband's phone can be a rich source of such evidence.

Called the Anti-Cybercrime Law, the measure makes "spying on, interception or reception of data transmitted through an information network or a computer without legitimate authorization" a crime. It imposes a penalty up to 500,000 Saudi riyal (94,526 pounds), prison or both.

"Social media has resulted in a steady increase in cybercrimes such as blackmail, embezzlement and defamation, not to mention hacking of accounts", the ministry said.

A similar law on the books in the neighbouring United Arab Emirates also bars the practise, carrying a minimum three-month prison term and 3,000 dirham ($817) fine.

The oil-rich and tech-obsessed countries are among the most avid social media users in the world, but traditional values remain ascendant, even in courts.

(Reporting By Noah Browning, editing by Larry King)

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Reuters