United Arab Emirates: Law Governing VPNs

Last Updated: 20 December 2018
Article by STA Law Firm
Most Read Contributor in United Arab Emirates, August 2019

Legalities of using Virtual Private Network –

Considering the recent ban on skype and other applications in U.A.E.

Introduction :

In recent years, an enormous change has undergone in the field of technology which raises a necessary question about human's ability to continue in protecting and promoting the right over the internet. Over the past twenty years, the governments of various countries have dramatically increased their efforts to control and restrict information on social media. The online content manipulation has contributed to the overall decline in the internet freedom of people. Nowadays, the use of fake news, online hacking, and online theft have gained vast popularity and particular attention. For this reason, some countries have put new restrictions on the use of VPN(Virtual Private Network).

What is VPN?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a network which is private and which is used to add security and privacy to the public and private, for instance, Wi-Fi Hotspot and the Internet. It is an encrypted connection over the internet from a device to a network wherein it conceals one's real IP (Internet Protocol) address. VPN provides a different IP address through which one can quickly gain access to the websites that are blocked by a government by using an advanced encryption protocol via secured online data transfers. A VPN can be set up by entering a username and a complex password. There are various advantages of using a VPN, for instance, if someone is working remotely, a VPN can allow logging on one's company website and accessing the other internal resources. It also protects data while using the WiFi Hotspots in various public areas like airports, metro stations, restaurants, cafes, etc. But there are numerous negative implications of using a VPN, for instance, it can hide various malicious activities which are done intentionally by a diverse group of people. These activities include stealing one's personal information, hacking one's account, etc.

Can using VPN lead to copyright infringement?

The answer to this question, however, differs from country to country. In some states using a V.P.N. is legal and in some other countries using V.P.N. is illegal. For instance in the countries like China, Iran, Oman, Russia, Turkey and U.A.E. have only government approved V.P.N. Again the countries for example Iraq, North Korea has entirely banned the use of V.P.N. On the other hand in U.S.A., Europe and most of the countries of Asia, the use of V.P.N. is legal.

V.P.N. was initially being used to provide a secured network and connection for the big business and organizations. But on the other hand V.P.N. can also be used maliciously for various illegal and unwanted activities like hacking one's account, online theft, making internet fraud while online shopping, etc. when someone is doing illegal activities over a V.P.N., then there is the possibility that such person will be prosecuted under the laws of that country. Therefore, in some jurisdictions it is against the law when someone uses V.P.N. in concealing his identity to hack another person's account, selling drugs or such other illegal activities. Because of this ban on using V.P.N. in some countries, for instance, Iraq, Belarus, North Korea, and Turkmenistan, some people think that the utilizing of a V.P.N. is not allowed. However, there are various legitimate uses of a V.P.N. which below:

  1. Protecting one's data and providing a secured network: A public WiFi is not a secured connection, and it can be easily hacked, and it can contaminate one's connection with harmful computer programme which is known as Malware. Using a V.P.N. can make a secure connection and protect data from unsecured Wi-Fi set up.
  2. Use of a V.P.N. by corporations and governmental organizations for security: The Governmental organizations and Corporations related to Defence, Finance, Economic Development, Human Resource, Trade, Municipality, legal affairs, etc. need extra protection while using the internet to protect their sensitive data. As the use of V.P.N. makes a network more secured, some Government organizations and corporations mostly rely on V.P.N. services.
  3. People who are more concerned about a secured connection or those who wish to have a secured connection using a V.P.N. The Use of a V.P.N. disguises one's I.P. address, and the other search engines cannot identify the identity behind the V.P.N. Thus a V.P.N service enables those who are much more conscious about their network security against various types of harmful online activities.

Cybercrime Law in UAE:

In the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) there is a recent ban on Skype, Whatsapp audio call and video call, Viber and some other streaming devices. The residents of the U.A.E. are facing several restrictions on internet usage which forbids them to use various websites.

This problem is also met by the people who come from abroad for business purposes and pleasure. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of the U.A.E. had imposed a strict restriction and control of what can be accessed and viewed on the internet across the country which is called internet censorship. Recently, laws of U.A.E. only allow the use of V.P.N. services which are considered to be legal by the government to access the blocked websites or else the U.A.E. laws put imprisonment or fines based on the severity of the crime. (Article 1 of Federal Law No. 12 of 2016)

Cybercrime Legislation in UAE:

The U.A.E. legislature passed a cybercrime law in 2012 which banned the use of various websites which are considered illegal in the country. Such restricted websites include pornography sites, gambling pages, and various sacrilegious sites, etc. The U.A.E. Cybercrime Law Number 5 of 2012, contains multiple stern punishments to combat a plethora of information technology crimes.

Federal Law Numbers 5 of 2012:

The Federal Law No. 5 of U.E 2012 is a comprehensive piece of legislation which contains various provisions to combat cyber crimes. As per the law, it is unlawful to make illegal use of the many contents of internet, websites and V.P.N. services to commit cybercrime and other fraudulent activities.

As per Article 9 of Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 , "Any person that circumvents the protocol address of the internet by using a delusive address or an address belonging to others or by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine not less than (AED 150.000) and not exceeding (AED 500.000) or by any of these punishments."

The article mentioned above was later replaced and amended by Article 1 of Federal Law No. 12 of 2016.

UAE Amended Cyber Law Relating to V.P.N. (Federal Law No.12 of 2016)

Article 1 of the Federal Law Number 12 of 2016 has introduced some amendments and changes to the Cyber Crime Law (Article 9 of the Federal Law No.5 of 2012). The amended law states that:

"Whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (I.P. address) by using a false address or a third-party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery, shall be punished by temporary imprisonment and a fine of no less than Dirhams 500,000 (U.S.D. $136,128.51) and not exceeding Dhs 2,000,000 (USD $544,514.04), or either of these two penalties."

Thus the above mentioned amending provision of cyber law in U.A.E. criminalized the use of illegal V.P.N. services in U.A.E.

Following the announcement of the amended cyber law of 2016, the T.R.A. has issued a statement clarifying that the companies, institutions, and banks are free to use V.P.N. to gain access to internal networks lawfully. The T.R.A.'s report also emphasized that business users can be held accountable if the V.P.N. is misused.

Again the newly amended law has made it clear that it is unlawful when a private individual uses V.P.N. services to commit a crime. The recently revised law mainly targets those who misuse the facility of V.P.N. and uses it for some illegal purposes.

What makes VPN illegal under the UAE Law:

U.A.E. Government restricts various content and websites which relates to Fraud, Theft, Deception. Etc. This category includes the following material:

  1. The internet content that uses the practices of online fraud, deception, theft, etc.
  2. The internet content that impersonates and claim the status of others for fraudulent purposes.
  3. The internet content that allows others to access others' bank statements and accounts, data, credit or other electronic card numbers or any electronic payments.

The U.A.E. Government restricts various types of internet content and websites which violate and invades the privacy of others. This category includes the following:

  1. Internet content and sites that consists of the tools for phone tapping, theft or publication of private information.
  2. The internet content that contains the information from the public or private organizations.

Various VPN Services in UAE:

There are some specific sorts of criteria while using the various V.P.N. services. Some of these criteria are good encryption, D.N.S. leak protection, no traffic logs, etc.

In the U.A.E., V.P.N. services are primarily used by private individuals to access V.O.I.P. (Voice Over Internet Protocol) and to access some websites that are officially blocked by the government. Now when the Skype and Whatsapp calls are banned, the use of V.P.N. had become a necessity for all the people to call at home. The following are some of the legal ways to do it:

Du and Etisalat have various types of V.P.N. packages that allow users to use mobile data and other service provider Wi-Fi to connect and make video and voice calls internationally. Some of the packages start at Dh 50 per month. People can make a good choice by utilizing all these V.P.N. packages provided by various telecommunication services.

Conclusion

The Government of the U.A.E. is not against V.P.N., but they want to combat the illegal use of V.P.N. such as hacking, online theft, Piracy, Pornography, etc. The Law of the U.A.E. has allowed the legal use of V.P.N. in certain specific circumstances. As such, accessing a V.P.N. by an individual in U.A.E. is permissible, depending on specified terms and conditions.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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