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Dubai Authorities Make Using VPNs A Punishable Offence

Monday, June 29th, 2015

If you are heading to Dubai and are planning to use a VPN service to bypass the tough censorship laws of the country then this piece of news is definitely for you. As per a circular issued by the Dubai authorities, using a Virtual Private Network is now a punishable offence and violators could face legal action or increased surveillance of their online activities. The move is likely to affect hundreds of thousands of expats as well as local residents who often rely on VPNs to watch GEO-IP restricted streaming services or use blocked services like Skype.

Speaking to Emirates 24/7, the director of Dubai Police cyber crime division Saeed Al Hajri said that using a VPN is a punishable offence since the technology alters the underlying internet connection. Speaking to the Dubai Media Incorporated news channel, he also expressed concern regarding reports that criminals were increasingly using anonymizing services (especially VPNs) to conceal their crimes and mask their online identities. While reiterating that manipulating networks remains a crime within the country, Al Hajri said that there is a specific provision within the UAE law to deal with such types of activities.

Commenting on the development, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) of UAE stated that using VPNs was always banned in the country under the purview of Law Number 9. However, the authority also admitted that the law was never enforced strictly in the past which explains why people are still able to use VPNs without facing any problems. Promising a better enforcement of the law in the future, TRA said that the authorities would now take extra steps to ensure compliance with the law and punish those who violate it.

While announcing these measures, the authorities also hinted at what kind of action could be taken against the violators of the law. While it is highly unlikely that a court proceeding would be initiated against people found to be using a VPN service, additional legal charges could be filed against those who are found to be involved in an illegal activity along with using a VPN. Additionally, regulators of the country admitted to stepping up surveillance of the social media users to check for abuse of Law Number 9.

The authorities also said that once a suspect was identified, he or she would be under constant surveillance and lawmakers would not hesitate to press charges based on older complaints (even three or four year old complaints) against the individual. Al Hajri also said that the lawmakers are now looking at such cases from all angles and are waiting for the criminals to violate the law just once.

UAE is often listed among the most censored countries in the world since thousands of websites and online services (especially VOIP services) remain blocked in the country due to political, religious or moral reasons. While anonymity services like VPNs helped people to bypass online censorship from within UAE, the recent announcements from Dubai authorities could soon pave the way for the shutdown of such services within the country.

June 29, 2015

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