There have been reports in the press during the course of last
week that the law concerning the use of VPNs has changed. In some
online publications it has been incorrectly stated that the use of
VPNs in the UAE is now illegal.
The legal position regarding the use
of VPNs in the UAE has not changed. Specifically it was and remains
an offence under Article 9 of the Cybercrime Law (Federal Law No. 5
of 2012) to use a VPN to commit a crime, or to try to prevent its
discovery. This has been the case since the Cybercrime Law was
introduced in August of 2012.
The Telecoms Regulatory Authority
(TRA) in the UAE issued a public statement on 1
August 2016 confirming that "there are no regulations which
prevent the use of VPN technology by companies, institutions and
banks to access their internal networks through internet. However,
business users can be held accountable, like the use of any other
technology, if it has been misused."
The confusion surrounding the impact
of Law No. 12 of 2016 seems to have emanated from inaccurate
reporting on some foreign news websites. It seems that these
inaccurate reports were spotted and shared by members of the public
on social media.
Law No. 12 of 2016 does increase the
penalties for breaching Article 9 of the Cybercrime Law. Previously
the potential fines ranged from AED 150,000 to AED 500,000. Now
they have been increased to any amount from AED 500,000 to AED 2
million. This is in addition to a potential custodial sentence,
which existed previously.
The increase in the level of fine
signifies that the UAE Government considers any breach of Article 9
of the Cybercrime Law to be a serious matter. Whether the change in
the level of fine will result in an increase in prosecutions
remains to be seen.
Using a VPN to commit an offence
gives rise to a risk of prosecution. Examples of crimes that may be
committed using a VPN include the following:
accessing gambling services;
accessing obscene materials; and
watching / listening to content that
is not licensed for use in the UAE which, depending on the
circumstances could constitute copyright infringement.
To date there have been no public
reports of an individual being prosecuted for committing an offence
when using a VPN for personal, non-commercial purposes. However, we
cannot rule out the possibility of enforcement action being taken
in these circumstances in future.
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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