The law regarding the use of VPN connection can be somewhat confusing for inhabitants of the UAE. First, some background:
Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA)
The use of phones and internet in UAE is regulated by the Telecom Regulatory Authority. They have introduced regulations on internet use that are in place to protect ex-pats and citizens from breaking UAE law, knowingly or unknowingly. Some of these laws relate to traditional UAE criminal acts such as viewing adult content, gambling, posting derogatory or racial content or even financing or planning acts of terrorism. In newer years, the surge of piracy (such as downloaded movies and music) has made it necessary for the TRA to further strengthen the regulations on internet use, to protect copyright holders.
Can I still use a VPN?
The law itself does not prohibit the use of VPN in UAE. However, it does state that if the connection is used for illegals means, the use itself becomes illegal and may be used against you in court. What this means is that if you use VPN to circumvent the legal UAE restrictions to reach or post material online, the VPN use becomes a part of the crime, just as means taken to cover a traditional crime may add to your sentence.
Should I refrain from using a VPN?
In short – if it is not highly necessary, then yes. The use of a VPN might make the authorities curious as to why you would need to use it in the first place. Because of this, you should weigh the necessity of using it. Even if you are using the connection for what you consider to be within the law, you might unknowingly be breaking it. A typical case is to use a VPN to reach content on Netflix that is not available in UAE; it might seem innocent to use a VPN to have access to your favourite show, but the reason it is not available in UAE has to do with licensing restrictions. In other words – you will be breaking international copyright restrictions by streaming it in a country where it has not been made available.
According to Kabayan Weekly, there are at the time of writing no examples of arrests or court sentences made simply for illegal usage of VPN. However, there are numerous examples of actions being taken against people using VPN as a means to hide their criminal acts. In other words, the illegal use of VPN can add to your sentence if you are arrested for a different crime.
What are the penalties for illegal VPN use?
Using a VPN illegally can be costly. The law states:
Whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP address) by using a false address or a third-party address by another means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery, shall be punished by temporary imprisonment, and a fine of no less than AED 500 000 and not exceeding AED 2 million, or either of these two penalties.
What is VPN?
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, connects two computers securely and privately over the internet. The information sent from the first computer (your laptop for example) is encrypted, and then sent to the second, which finishes the query and fetches the response for you and sends it back encrypted. In other words, no one can see which sites and services you access, and all information exchanged is private.
VPN’s are mostly used legally – it may help you stay safe on a public network for example, as no one can sniff out the information you are sending and receiving. It can, however, be used illegally to mask your identity and location, to hide that you are accessing illegal content. This is not limited to UAE, but mostly international regulations.
Several organizations that rely on privacy, such as banks, also use VPN’s to stay secure.
What is illegal use of VPN?
The illegal use of VPN services includes, but is not limited to, the following
- Reaching or spreading copyrighted material (“piracy”)
- Posting or reading content that may damage the UAE’s reputation
- Posting/reading content that compromises national security or invokes illegal acts
- Funding or in other ways contributing to terrorism
- Contributing to social uprising
- Posting/reaching content illegal in the UAE, such as adult content and gambling
- Circumventing restrictions on streaming and VoIP services
- Posting/reading content that is derogatory or racial in nature, or that damages the reputation of the government and ruling family
Using a VPN in accordance with UAE law and with respect to its authority is legal.
Disclaimer: at the time of writing, the author has made efforts to ensure the correctness of information offered. It is up to every reader to ensure that their usage of the advice offered is in compliance with UAE and international laws and regulations. Amlie Solutions or the author holds no responsibility for any consequence(s) that might occur as a result of the information contained within this article. The laws and regulations in this article may have changed since its publication.