United Arab Emirates: Data Protection 2018: UAE Chapter

Last Updated: 14 August 2018
Article by Rima Mrad and Nadim Bardawil

1 RELEVANT LEGISLATION AND COMPETENT AUTHORITIES

What is the principal data protection legislation?

The laws in the United Arab Emirates can be divided into mainland/ onshore UAE laws and free-zone specific laws. The mainland of the UAE does not have any principal data protection legislation existing in its own right. Data privacy and protection is addressed across a number of separate regulations, not specifically focused on data protection.

Certain free-zones have their own respective data protection legislation which only applies within the confines of said free-zone, such as the Dubai International Financial Center ("DIFC"), the Abu Dhabi Global Market ("ADGM"), the Dubai Healthcare City ("DHCC") and the mainland of the United Arab Emirates ("UAE").

The principal data protection regulations in the DIFC are:

  • DIFC Law Number 1 of 2007 (as amended by DIFC Law Number 5 of 2012).
  • DIFC Data Protection Regulations (consolidated version number 2 of 2012) ("DIFC Regulations").

The principal data protection regulations in the ADGM are:

  • The Data Protection (Amendment) Regulations 2018 ("ADGM 2018 Data Protection Regulations").
  • The Data Protection Regulations of 2015 ("ADGM 2015 Data Protection Regulations" or "ADGM Regulations") (enacted under Article 6(1) of Law Number 4 of 2013 concerning the Abu Dhabi Global Market) which are consistent with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's guidelines and the European Union's Directives on the protection of privacy and personal data.

The principal data protection legislation in the DHCC is the Health Data Protection Regulation Number 7 of 2013. It contains several detailed provisions relating to the protection of patient data and patient health information, including information about the patient's health, medical history, disabilities, and donations of body parts and bodily substances.

The only legislation in the UAE that directly addresses Data Protection is the Dubai Law Number 26 of 2015 regulating Data Dissemination and Exchange in the Emirate of Dubai ("the Dubai Data Dissemination Law"). However, the Dubai Data Dissemination Law only applies to Federal Government Entities that have any data relating to Dubai, to local government entities, and to persons who produce or spread any data relating to Dubai.

1.2 Is there any other general legislation that impacts data protection?

The following pieces of legislation impact data protection matters in the UAE:

  • Article 378 of Federal Law Number 3 of 1987 (the "Penal Code"), as amended by Federal Law Number 34 of 2005, provides that the violation of private or familial life by recording or transmitting private conversations and by capturing or transmitting the picture of a person in a private place is punishable by a fine and imprisonment. Article 379 of the Penal Code further provides that any individual who, by reason of his profession or situation, is entrusted with a secret and who discloses it in unauthorised cases, or uses it for his own advantage, is punishable by a fine and by imprisonment.
  • Article 31 of the UAE constitution of 1971 (the "UAE Constitution") provides for a general right to privacy with respect to correspondence and other means of communication: "Freedom of corresponding through the post, telegraph or other means of communication and the secrecy thereof shall be guaranteed in accordance with the law". However, this only applies to UAE nationals.

1.3 Is there any sector-specific legislation that impacts data protection?

The following pieces of sector-specific legislation impact data protection matters in the UAE:

  • Federal Law Number 5 of 2012 on Combatting Cybercrimes (the "Cybercrime Law"). Article 2 of the Cybercrime Law prohibits the disclosure, publication and re-publishing of any information that was obtained by unauthorised access to websites or electronic information systems or networks. Article 21 prohibits the use of a computer network, an electronic information system or any information technology means for the invasion of privacy. Further, Article 22 states that any person who uses, without permission, any information network, electronic site or information technology tool to expose confidential information shall be punished by imprisonment and a fine.
  • Federal Law by Decree Number 3 of 2003 regarding the Organisation of the Telecommunications Sector (the "Telecommunications Law"). The Telecommunications Law provides protection to all data obtained through any means of communication. In addition, the 2014 Customer Protection Regulations address to what extent the UAE's two telecommunication companies can share the personal details of their customers.
  • Telecommunications Regulatory Authority Consumer Protection Regulations Version 1.3 protect data and information relating to telecommunications subscribers, including their name, address, bank account details, credit card details, and message and call recordings.
  • Dubai Law Number 23 of 2006 (the "Dubai Statistics Law") prevents the disclosure of any data collected for statistics.
  • Federal Law Number 15 of 1980 regarding Printed Matters and Publications provides that publishing news and comments connected with a person's private life is prohibited.
  • UAE Cabinet Resolution No. 21 of 2013 addressing data security for Federal Authorities (the "Data Security Resolution") specifically outlines how data belonging to the UAE federal government, authorities, ministries and other official entities must be stored, treated and disseminated.

In the healthcare settings, privacy and data protection matters are governed by the regulations listed below. Emirate-specific regulatory bodies have begun drafting more comprehensive medical data legislation.

  • Health Authority of Abu Dhabi ("HAAD") Data Standards and Procedures, of January 2008, as revised by the April 2014 version. The HAAD Data Standards and Procedures outlines the policies and procedures which must be followed when handling Confidential Health Information ("CHI") focusing on four areas: the necessary and authorised access to CHI; the unauthorised access to CHI; the storage of CHI; and the transmission of CHI. It further provides regulations relating to health insurance fraud. The HAAD has created a Data Standards Panel whose role is to "review and recommend to HAAD changes and additions to electronic data exchange standards, such as transactions, codes and business rules".
  • Dubai Health Authority ("DHA") Home Healthcare Regulations, issued in 2012, outline the procedures healthcare facilities must follow with respect to healthcare records and their management. Similarly, the Health Record Guidelines outline the essential requirements which healthcare facilities must implement with regards to the management of health records including record keeping, retention of health records and destruction of health records. The DHA also created the Health Data and Information Analysis Department whose role is to improve the manner and method in which health data is handled and exchanged, as well as to "focus on transparency and confidentiality" between patients and healthcare providers.
  • Federal Law Number 7 of 1975 concerning the Practice of the Human Medicine Profession (the "Human Medicine Profession Law"). Article 13 of the Human Medicine Profession Law states that a doctor has no right to divulge a private secret concerning a patient and relating to his profession. Certain exceptions apply to this, namely if divulging the secret is held to serve the interests of the individual or to prevent a crime from occurring.
  • The Ministry of Health Code of Conduct 1988 (the "Code of Conduct") states that pharmacists are required to uphold the confidentiality of any information acquired in the course of professional practice relating to patients and their families. In this case, confidential information and data extends beyond the customer's medical details and includes their address, telephone, and any family or financial data contained in the medical record and hospital registration details.
  • Other guidelines on the ethical principles to respect in relation to confidentiality and privacy are covered by "the Good Clinical Practice Principles" and "the Basic Principle for all Medical Research".

1.4 What authority(ies) are responsible for data protection?

There is no single authority responsible for the regulation of data protection in the United Arab Emirates. The following sector- specific authorities are responsible for matters related to data protection in the United Arab Emirates:

  • National Electronic Security Authority (pursuant to the Cybercrime Law).
  • Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (pursuant to the Telecommunications Law).
  • The Dubai Statistics Centre (pursuant to the Dubai Statistics Law).
  • The Dubai Health Authority and the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi.

In the DIFC, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner is responsible for the regulation of data protection. In the ADGM, the Office of Data Protection is responsible for regulating data protection matters. In the DHCC, the Centre for Healthcare Planning and Quality is responsible for the regulation of data protection.

2 DEFINITIONS

2.1 Please provide the key definitions used in the relevant legislation:

  • "Personal Data"
    The DIFC Law Number 1 of 2007 defines "Personal Data" as any data referring to an identifiable natural person, which in turn is defined as a natural living person who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identification number or to one or more factors specific to their biological, physical, biometric, physiological, mental, economic, cultural or social identity.

    The ADGM 2018 Data Protection Regulations define "Personal Data" as any information relating to an identified natural person or identifiable natural person. "Identifiable natural person" is defined as a natural person who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identification number or to one or more factors specific to their biological, physical, biometric, physiological, mental, economic, cultural or social identity.
  • "Processing"
    In the DIFC Law Number 1 of 2007, "Processing" is defined as any operation or set of operations which is performed upon personal data, whether or not by automatic means, such as collection, recording, organisation, storage, adaptation or alteration, retrieval, consultation, use, disclosure by transmission, dissemination or otherwise making available, alignment or combination, blocking, erasure or destruction.

    The ADGM 2018 Data Protection Regulations define "Processing" as any operation or set of operations which is performed upon personal data, whether or not by automatic means, such as collection, recording, organisation, storage, adaptation or alteration, retrieval, consultation, use, disclosure by transmission, dissemination or otherwise making available, alignment or combination, blocking, erasure or destruction, and "Processed", "Processes" and "Process" shall be construed accordingly.
  • "Controller"
    In the DIFC Law Number 1 of 2007 and the ADGM 2018 Data Protection Regulations, "Data Controller" is defined as any person in the DIFC or the ADGM, respectively, who alone or jointly with others determines the purposes and means of the processing of personal data. A data controller is equivalent to a data protection officer.
  • "Processor"
    In the DIFC Law Number 1 of 2007 and the ADGM 2018 Data Protection Regulations, a "Data Processor" is any person who processes personal data on behalf of a data controller.
  • "Data Subject"
    In the DIFC Law Number 1 of 2007, "Data Subject" is defined as any individual to whom personal data relates. The ADGM 2018 Data Protection Regulations define "Data Subject" as the natural person to whom personal data relate.
  • "Sensitive Personal Data"
    In the DIFC Law Number 1 of 2007, "Sensitive Personal Data" is defined as personal data revealing or concerning (directly or indirectly) racial or ethnic origin, communal origin, political affiliations or opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, criminal record, trade-union membership and health or sex life. The ADGM 2018 Data Protection Regulations provides the same definition of "Sensitive Personal Data" although it does include communal origin in the definition.
  • "Data Breach"
    None of the applicable laws provide a definition of "Data Breach".
  • Other key definitions please specify (e.g., "Pseudonymous Data", "Direct Personal Data", "Indirect Personal Data")
  • "Data"
    In the DIFC Law Number 1 of 2007 and the ADGM 2018 Data Protection Regulations, "Data" is defined as any information which:
    1. is processed by means of equipment operating automatically in response to instructions given for that purpose;
    2. is recorded with the intention that it should be processed by means of such equipment; or
    3. is recorded as part of a relevant filing system or with the intention that it should form part of a relevant filing system.

In the Dubai Data Dissemination Law, "Data" is defined as a collection of organised or unorganised information, facts, concepts, instructions, observations, or measurements, in the form of numbers, alphabets, symbols, images, or any other form, that are collected, produced or processed by data providers. "Data" also includes information.

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