While there still questions about legally prosecuting a person for using a Virtual Private Network, despite Abu Dhabi’s senior prosecutors attempts to clarify the new law. Amendments made in 2012 to the cybercrime law left the area surround the usage of a VPN gray at best. The states Prosecution office that VPN is only illegal if it is used to make online call that are otherwise not accessible, to download unauthorized content or bypass proxies to unauthorized areas. In UAE, companies often use VPNs to access internal networks, which are absolutely legal, however, what is not is to use them to access certain apps not permitted by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority or the countries’ two telecoms providers.
While there is nothing stopping the use of these apps if they were accessed without bypassing restrictions, without having to use a fake IP address, which is a standard protocol when using a VPN. The newly amended article in the 2012 law says that anyone using a fake IP to commit a crime shall be punished by a prison sentence and a fine of Dh2 million. This also applies to anyone who uses a VPN to commit crimes outlined in the law. The country’s regulators have criticized by residents, outside experts and even a member of the Federal National Council for blocking web-calling services, such as Skype, Snapchat and Facetime.
Many residents also use these networks to bypass copyright restrictions on content available in their home countries. For example, accessing the BBC iPlayer program is not possible in many countries around the world, and the network does not support the use of the web content player through VPNs. Additionally, unlicensed viewings of such sites could break the international content agreements, and the BBC could prosecute because they are in the middle – they are a content aggregator or media players. Theoretically, the network could take action if pushed by content providers that say that he or she has not given the BC rights to broadcast their content in the Middle East.
Breaking copyright agreements is highly illegal and a person could be held accountable. Therefore, if the digital policy in the Emirates said voice and accessing certain content is illegal, the authorities could find you guilty. Nevertheless, the government officials claim that not anyone who is using the Internet risks being prosecuted, the law changes are specific to certain violations being committed. The TRA regulates telecommunications providers and any calling platform has to be approved by them, and currently in the United Emirates, only Etisalat and du are licenced providers. However, it the government has not won the war; software is becoming more available than ever, and even he poorest citizens can afford the cheapest VPN solution. The technological advances, combined with growing tech knowledge have made these networks available everywhere, and it seems that people are still using Virtual Private Networks in the United Emirates. In addition, the numbers are really surprising.
A recent informal poll of Emirates citizens revealed that nearly half of the people in the country use VPNs. A small percentage said that they have stopped using them after media reports that it is illegal, but the majority still uses them on regular basis. Some people use them to access blocked dating site, but most of the people use them to access blocked sites in general.