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Dubai: The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) of the UAE has announced that there are no legislations in the country that obstruct the economic movement or the work of local or international companies based in the UAE. 

This comes in response to several inquiries the TRA has received from companies or institutions about what has been published in the media recently regarding the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) in the UAE.

The TRA has assured businesses and the public that it is fully committed to the safety and the smooth flow of economic activities for UAE-based companies and institutions, highlighting that there are no regulations which prevent the use of VPN technology by companies, institutions and banks to access their internal networks through internet. However, business users can be held accountable, like the use of any other technology, if it has been misused.

Referring to a recently issued amendment on the Federal Law No. (5) of 2012, the TRA noted that the law is not new in its essence and that the only changes were related to tightening the penalty or punishment for any violation.

The TRA further urged to read the actual violation mentioned in the law; which says: “using a false IP address or a third-party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery”, in order to understand the law correctly and where the punishment is exclusively linked to the mentioned fraudulent act and the intent to commit a crime or prevent its discovery.

“The UAE is proud of being one of the countries that encourage investment and openness to ICT-based economic activities. This trend is embodied the UAE's history since the founding of the union in 1971,” said Hamad Obaid Al Mansouri, Director General of TRA.

“It is also included in the strategic directions of the UAE, particularly in our national Vision 2021, which aims to make the UAE one of the best countries in the world – and clearly outlined as well in our national agenda and major programs and projects that confirms the UAE’s leadership in this field worldwide.”

The TRA further emphasised that any misuse of the licensed and organized services in the UAE will lead to legal accountability. It is worth mentioning that the laws are targeting those who misuse the services and not those activities that are consistent with UAE’s laws.

“The leadership of the UAE in the field of internet applications and IT in general, is on the contrary to what has been circulated by some media regarding the use of VPNs. It is known that the UAE is keen to embody the directions of the UAE Government’s wise leadership regarding smart transformation, including the smart government, smart cities, Big Data, and Internet of Things, in addition to promoting investment, competitiveness and focus on building a knowledge-based economy and society,” Al Mansouri added.

What the UAE Cybercrime Law says

According to the UAE Cybercime Law, any individual is committing a crime if he or she uses the internet to promote child pornography or terrorism, commit financial fraud or engage in cyber bullying. 

VPN users in UAE speak out

Meanwhile, UAE residents told Gulf News that there are reasons why they have been using VPN over the years. They use VPN to access blocked apps that offer video chat and voice call services. They also said that the public should be allowed to continue using VPN.

Abdullah Z., a Jordanian accountant, said he uses VPN to access apps like Viber and Skype to call his brother, who studies in Turkey, and also to watch series not made available here.

“International calls are expensive here and I need to be able to check on him regularly. These apps are blocked in the UAE. I also need VPN to watch certain series online, which are never broadcast here because of violence and certain degrees of sexual content,” he said.

He believes most people in the UAE also use VPN to access the international version of sites such as the Apple store in the UK and US, where certain music albums, that have not been made available here, can be downloaded.

“I recently used it to download the game Pokemon Go, as it still hasn’t been officially launched in the UAE. I think it’s OK for VPN to be used, but with certain limits, of course. If someone is using it for fraud or has a criminal intention, then they should definitely be punished by law, but if people are using it for social and entertainment purposes, it should be allowed.”

Nada K., from Egypt who studies abroad but visits the UAE regularly, said she also switches her IP address with VPN when on vacation here to stay in touch with her mother and siblings in the US.

“I use Viber and other apps offering video calls, which are blocked here. There are also apps I use for my college and need to access when I’m here on vacation,”

She said many VPNs don’t work that well in the UAE, which forces her to find an alternative VPN that is not blocked and can run properly.

“I’ve recently heard about a fine and jail term for those caught using VPN, but It didn’t make sense to me and now it has been made clear that users will be punished if they use it to commit fraud or crime. If it is being used for purposes that are not for any criminal activities, it should be fine to use it,” she said.