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Understanding the Use of VPNs in the UAE

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On the back of local reports surrounding the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in the UAE, we’ve all had questions around what we can – and what we can’t – do when it comes to their use.Over the weekend, a government official was reported in a local paper as saying there was no problem with people using VPNs in the UAE, but that improper use was the issue.So, what are the right and wrong ways to use a VPN?With hefty fines for misuse, it’s important that you understand the circumstances under which it is okay to use VPNs in the UAE.We’ve cleared up the answers right here.

What exactly is a VPN and why do you need one?

A VPN creates a safe, encrypted online connection by converting a public network connection into a private one. In more straightforward terms, this allows users to secure their network from the threat of cybercrime, which is why many businesses in the UAE use VPNs. Businesses in the UAE use VPNs for this very reason, and they may also have their own internal VPN to make remote working a safe and secure possibility.

What’s the problem with VPNs in the UAE?

That all seems perfectly reasonable, right? You might be wondering at this point what all the fuss is about. The confusion surrounding legality comes as many VPN providers, if used improperly, could allow users to gain access to sites that are blocked in the UAE. A VPN can change where your network connection is based, which could theoretically lead to the person using it to circumvent the established online laws of the UAE. This, quite simply, is illegal. You cannot use a VPN to break established UAE law by accessing illegal sites, changing your IP (internet protocol) address or committing cybercrimes such as fraud.

  • The Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) has clear guidelines on the prohibited content categories which cannot be accessed via a VPN. This includes – but is not limited to – infringing on intellectual property rights such as encrypted TV channels and using illegal communication services. An example of these are voice and video calls via apps such as WhatsApp.
  • In 2021, the UAE introduced a decree law to combat false rumours (or fake news) and cybercrimes, which goes into depth on the banned digital activities. These crimes include invading the privacy of others, insulting and slandering others, and creating illegal content.

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In short, yes using a VPN is legal in the UAE but, to avoid repercussions, you must stay within the local law when using one. So make sure that you’re brushed up on your local laws, behave responsibly online and avoid prohibited content to stay out of trouble.

What are the repercussions of illegal VPN use?

Breaching the UAE’s laws on VPN use can be very expensive, with fines of up to Dhs2 million possible. These fines do not just apply to residents in the UAE, but also tourists – so if you have family visiting please make sure they’re also aware. Serious breaches which put lives in danger could face even more severe punishment, in addition to heavy fines with imprisonment a serious possibility.tdre.gov.ae

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