Just recently, the UAE cyber security act of 2012 was amended. The regulations defined by the law are quite clear on most aspects but is very vague on the VPN usage in the country. Most people always want to be on the correct side of the law, but this can be difficult when you are not sure what the law states.
However, Humaid Aldarmaki of the Abu Dhabi Public Prosecution office did shed some light on what is legal and legal when using VPNs. To start with, he explained that using VPN to make VoIP calls is illegal. In the amended cybercrime laws and according to the telecommunications regulatory law it is illegal to use VoIP services such as calling via Skype, WhatsApp, Snapchat and Viber. In the United Arab Emirates, only two telecommunication companies can provide VoIP services, du and Etisalat.
In that light, the new laws seem to be monopolising international calls to the two companies. The telecommunications metered international call services face huge competition from VoIP calls from apps such as Skype considering there are many such communications apps that offer the service for free. But what is the point of metered international calls when telecommunication companies can make profits from selling data packages to customers? The VoIP calls rely on internet connection. Such calls consume lots of data, and not all people in the UAE have wireless connections in their homes. Etisalat and du can make money by selling internet access through data packages.
The 2012 cybercrime law now clearly states that using VPN, or fraudulent proxies, to commit a crime or prevent the discovery of crime is illegal. Offenders face a jail term or a fine of up to Dh 2 million. The scope of the term “crime” in this case is so broad and is the source of concern to most citizens.
People all over the UAE use VPNs to bypass internet censorship by the government and access geographically restricted sites such as Netflix US. The government of UAE may have introduced the new law to make sure its citizens do not access sites that are restricted. For instance accessing BBC on iPlayer in the UAE is restricted. Using a VPN one can access the service as the connection will mask the IP address of the user. But, if discovered by BBC, it may be interpreted as a copyright infringement and breaking of digital laws.
In truth, the amended cybercrime law is nothing but harsh. Citizens have highly criticized the restriction of VoIP calls. Until further notice, anyone wishing to provide a VoIP platform in the country has to approach the licensed companies, du and Etisalat.
Accessing VoIP services, downloading illegal content such as pornography and bypassing geographical restrictions using VPNs is illegal. That much is clear. It would serve the public interest if the government clearly defined everything to do with legal VPN usage.