It seems that the Sheikhs of the United Arab Emirates really don’t like foreign employees and visitors that use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Proxy servers to have access to the various communication apps and other content filtered in their country.
A new law that was signed late last week fines those that are caught between 500,000 to 2,000,000 DHS ($136K – $544K) plus temporary imprisonment. The law is intended to battle “cybercrime”.
Here’s an excerpt from Gulf Business (access the entire article here):
People in the United Arab Emirates who use virtual private networks (VPNs) could face temporary imprisonment and/or fines ranging from Dhs 500,000 to Dhs 2m under a new law.
The new federal law, issued by UAE President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan late last week, is focussed on combating cybercrime.
Federal law No. 12/2016 amends the existing federal law No. 5/2012 on combating information technology crimes.
Article 1 of the new law replaces the text of Article 9 of the old ruling as follows:
“Whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP 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 Dhs 500,000 and not exceeding Dhs 2,000,000, or either of these two penalties.”
And here is an excerpt from the Nation (access the entire article here):
Previously, the law was restricted to prosecuting people who used VPNs as part of an internet crime, but UK-based VPN and privacy advocate Private Internet Access says that the law has now changed to enable police in the UAE to go after anyone who uses VPNs to access blocked services, which is considered to be fraudulent use of an IP address.
At the moment, a large number of people residing in the UAE utilise VPNs in order to access popular apps that are inaccessible from within the Gulf nation like WhatsApp, Snapchat and Viber, which are messaging and voice apps that make use of Voice over IP (VoIP) technology to deliver voice calls over the internet for free.
VoIP “over-the-top” apps have long been a thorn in the sides of telecoms operators around the world, because consumers no longer need to pay international calling rates to speak to their loved ones – they can just speak to them on Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber or Snapchat.
But the UAE is one of the first governments in the world to actually regulate on behalf of and for its telecoms companies in order to help them stem loss of revenue from VoIP apps.
So this “cybercrime” law has nothing to do with the breaking the law but rather trying to prevent immigrant workers (many of whom are disgustingly underpaid) from using free platforms to communicate with their families back home using free services such as WhatsApp and Viber.
As both providers of telecom services in the UAE (du and Etisalat) are connected back to government ownership and are in actuality a single monopoly, this is just a another desperate attempt to channel people back to the legacy and exorbitant long distance channels. Not only is this better for their revenue, but better for wholesale monitoring of people that the VPNs and apps normally prevent.
You do have to bear in mind that theoretically you need an alcohol license to consume adult drinks in the UAE and having been raped and reporting the crime to the police may get the victim jailed for having non-marital sex… so this “law” should not come as a surprise.