The United Arab Emirates (UAE) have outlawed the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
A royal decree issued by President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has announced that anyone who uses a proxy server or VPN in the UAE could face imprisonment or a fine of up to two million dirhams (approx 18.9 million Baht).
According to local news outlets, Federal Law No 9/2012 now reads: “Whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP 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, shall be punished by temporary imprisonment and a fine of no less than Dh500,000 and not exceeding Dh2,000,000, or either of these two penalties.”
VPNs are services that allows users to connect to private networks in order to use the internet. They can be used for online piracy, but there are also a number of reasons related to online security why someone may want to use a VPN.
VPNs can also be used to circumnavigate geo-restrictions on online content – such as making Netflix think you are located in the US in order to access the content available there.
Users in countries like China and Turkey use VPNs to access sites like Facebook and Twitter, while people in Thailand use VPNs to access sites which are prohibited by the Thai government.
Previously, the ruling in the UAE only prosecuted people who used VPNs for internet crime but the updated law enables law enforcement officials in the UAE to go after anybody who uses a VPN to access websites or online services that would otherwise be blocked.
Currently, large numbers of people living or working in the UAE, including expats and offshore workers, use VPNs to access online services that are inaccessible from within the Gulf state – services such as Whatsapp, Viber and Snapchat.
The UAE has recently started clamping down on online piracy.
Last month, a man from Abu Dhabi was jailed for illegally uploading a TV series from online TV platform OSN.
The government’s ban on VPN use in the UAE is thought to have been the result of pressure from the country’s only two telecoms companies, Etistat and du, who are missing out revenue from international calling charges because users are opting for free VOIP services such as Skype, Facebook Messenger or Viber to call loved ones overseas.
Etistat and du are also the only companies to be granted licenses by the UAE government in order to offer their own commercial VOIP services, which are likely to be expensive or certainly more expensive than the free services offered by the likes of Skype and Facebook.
The UAE government has said previously that apps such as Skype, Whatsapp and Snapchat should be banned on security grounds.