The virtual private networks (VPN) work by encrypting the connection to the internet, disguising the IP address and preventing others from tracking your virtual whereabouts. The use of VPNs conjures a direct association to illegal activities such as hacking, accessing or downloading communication and gaming applications or websites that are blocked in the UAE, so it would instinctively be assumed that they would be banned in the UAE. Surprisingly, at present there is no legislation in the UAE that prevents the use of VPN technology. It is viewed that the danger lies in the event of its abuse where the user may face jail time or deportation for violating the local cyber law.
WHAT IS LEGAL USE OF A VPN IN UAE
The usage of VPN in the UAE is permitted if it is used as per the guidelines of the UAE government and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA). According to the guidelines of the TDRA published on August 1, 2016, using a VPN is currently legal when used by companies, institutions and banks for their internal purposes such as employees logging on to the organisational network and connecting to internal company resources or e-banking services to prevent hackers from accessing bank accounts, some banks even block Internet Protocol (IP) ranges of countries where financial fraud cases have been widely reported.
WHAT IS DEEMED ILLEGAL USE OF A VPN IN THE UAE
The TRA provides a list of the prohibited content which is blocked and that it is deemed incompatible with the local laws, morals and customs. To access this list please click here: Telecommunications And Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA).
Using a VPN to bypass those restrictions and get access to the prohibited content restricted by the TRA violates the UAE laws. According to Article 34 of the Federal Decree Law No. (5) of 2012 On Combating Cybercrimes (the Cybercrimes Law), an individual ‘…shall be punished by imprisonment of at least of one year and a fine not less than Dh250,000 and not in excess of Dh1 million or either of these two penalties whoever uses communication services, audio or video broadcasting channels without legal right or facilitates such use by others over the Computer network or information technology means”. Further, according to Article 42 of this Cybercrimes Law, the illegal use of VPN can also lead to deportation.
A more sinister usage would be using VPNs to commit a crime or prevent its discovery which incurs significantly more severe penalties as according to Article 1 of the Federal Law No. 12 of 2016, violators “…shall be punished by temporary imprisonment and a fine not less than Dh500,000 and not in excess of Dh2 million or either of these two penalties whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol 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”.
IS IT ILLEGAL TO USE A VPN TO UNBLOCK VOIP APPS?
One of the most common usages of a VPN is to access blocked communication services in the UAE. With expats constituting the majority of the population, communication with their home countries is a necessity. In the UAE it is only allowed to use the government approved Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to make calls within the UAE or outside the UAE. However, it has become such a common practice to use VPNs to access the video calling sites and applications. This usage of unauthorised VOIP calling system is considered illegal and can carry heavy legal penalties including fines, jail time and even deportation as mentioned earlier.
KNOW YOUR VPN
To absolve themselves, most VPN providers make it clear that carrying out illegal activities is not allowed and that users must assume all liability for any criminal behaviour and any suspected fraudulent, abusive, or illegal activity may be referred to appropriate law enforcement authorities.
There may be legitimate reasons to use a VPN and it is the responsibility of VPN users to identify whether their use is legal, and to check the laws before using the VPN.