UAE president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has issued a series of laws related to cyber-crimes. Of particular interest is a law that prohibits UAE citizens from using Virtual Private Networks to mask their web traffic from prying eyes.
According to the new VPN law, anyone caught using VPN or a proxy server is liable to a fine of Dh500,000 to Dh2,000,000, which is an equivalent of $136,000 to $545,000 or imprisonment.
The law is an upgrade from the previous law that prohibited the use of VPN in committing internet crime. Now, the UAE Police can arrest anyone using VPN to access geographically restricted sites, which is an illegitimate use of IP address.
VPN services allow Internet users from any part of the globe to connect their internet device to a private network on the web. These services are essential to people who prefer anonymous surfing as they do not reveal the IP address.
However, VPN services give governments no peace. People using VPNs can visit restricted sites. For example, someone using a VPN service can watch Netflix US from, say Dubai. VPN users also bypass internet censorship, which is common in Asian countries such as China. In China and some other countries, accessing Facebook and Twitter is restricted. Access to pornographic sites is also a crime in many countries. But, VPNs can bypass all that.
Moreover, VPNs are often used alongside the Tor web Browser to access websites secured in the Dark Web. The Dark Web is responsible for many crimes.
In the United Arab Emirates modern communication apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram and Snapchat are inaccessible. Most people in this nation use VPN to access these apps and communicate with friends and Family in other parts of the world. These apps use Voice over IP technology to offer free calls over the internet. VoIP apps are considered strong foes by telecom operators. Telecom operators now enjoy minimal profits from the expensive international calling rates. Why should anyone pay their enormous rates when they can simply call from apps such as WhatsApp, Skype and Facebook Messenger for free?
After these laws take effect, UAE will be the first government to favour telecom companies because now UAE subjects will have to use telecom networks to make calls.
The only two companies in the UAE that can offer VoIP commercial services are Etisalat and du. The UAE government granted the two companies licenses, providing them monopoly instead of allowing the citizens to use their preferred VoIP services.
UAE’s telecom regulator stands by the government’s decision. In fact, the regulator wishes the voice calling features of VoIP apps be disabled citing security concerns as the reason.