Women who flee Saudi Arabia expect to be chased.
They expect their friends to be interviewed, their social media to be scoured, their passports to be frozen.
They mostly do not expect Saudi government agents to hunt down the old box for their iPhone.
But according to multiple sources who spoke with INSIDER, this is what has been happening in Saudi Arabia’s quest to track down the growing number of women who flee the country every year.
Cellphone packaging can provide information that could — with the help of spy-grade tracking equipment — trace a Saudi runaway to within a few feet of her new location.
The data point being sought is the cellphone’s unique 15-digit International Mobile Equipment Identity. Tracking people with IMEI data is not new but is more usually the preserve of militaries or intelligence services.
The fact that such techniques are being employed shows how seriously Saudi Arabia takes the mass escape of as many as 1,000 women each year, people it has said are as much of a national security threat as terrorists.
Four women, all of whom fled in the past two years, told INSIDER about their experience of being tracked from their new homes in the West.
Two women who fled together in early 2019 said Saudi security services came to their family homes after they left and demanded to be shown the packaging of their cellphones.