Dubai: If you regularly use the internet to make calls to your family or friends around the world, or organising work meetings, you may have wondered which platforms are legally available in the UAE and if using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to make VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calls is putting you on the wrong side of the law.
A Gulf News reader wrote in, asking if there is a fine for using VoIP services in the UAE.
He said: “I read that misusing VPN in the UAE can lead to a fine of up to Dh2 million. Does this also include using VoIP call services? I would really appreciate it if Gulf News could clarify the law in this regard.”
Gulf News raised the query with Raluca Gatina, Partner – Legal Director at Elnaggar and Partner, who said that jail term for the misuse of VPN in the UAE is subjective to the kind of usage done by the purported individual.
“For example, using VPN by hiding the IP address to get access to communication services, audio or video broadcasting channels that are blocked by the UAE Government is illegal and can be punished with a fine and by imprisonment of at least one year. This is in accordance with Article No. 34 of the Federal Decree Law No. (5) of 2012 On Combating Cybercrimes, which states, ‘Shall be punished by imprisonment of at least of one year and a fine not less than Dh250,000 and not in excess of Dh1 million or either of these two penalties whoever uses communication services, audio or video broadcasting channels without legal right or facilitates such use by others over the Computer network or information technology means.’”
Using VPN by hiding the IP address to get access to communication services, audio or video broadcasting channels that are blocked by the UAE Government is illegal and can be punished with a fine and by imprisonment of at least one year. This is in accordance with Article No. 34 of the Federal Decree Law No. (5) of 2012 On Combating Cybercrimes.
Misusing VPN to commit a crime or prevent its discovery
Raluca also spoke about an amendment that was issued by the UAE government in 2016 – Article 1 of the Federal Law No. 12 of 2016. This amended only Article 9 of the Federal Decree Law No. (5) of 2012 On Combating Cybercrimes, which refers to the fraudulent use of a computer network protocol address or a third-party address for the purposes of committing a crime or preventing its discovery.
“The punishment for this crime is temporary imprisonment and a fine of not less than Dh500,000 and not more than Dh2 million, or either of these two penalties,” Gatina said.
How to legally use VPN?
Gatina explained that the usage of VPN in the UAE is permitted if the VPN is used as per the guidelines issued by the Telecommunications and Digital Regulatory Authority (TDRA) and the regulations of the federal law.
“TDRA has mentioned in its statement on August 1, 2016, that VPN may be used in the UAE by institutions, companies and banks for internal purposes only. The usage of VPN to commit a crime or for illegal means is an offence under the Federal Decree Law No. (5) of 2012 On Combating Cybercrimes and its amendments. In addition to imprisonment and a fine, the illegal use of VPN can lead to deportation, according to Article no. 42 of the Cybercrimes Law, which states: ‘The court may decide deportation of a foreigner who is condemned in any of the crimes specified in this DecreeLaw upon execution of the punishment adjudged.’”
Would the use of VoIP be considered as misuse of VPN?
“No, the use of VoIP is not considered a misuse of the VPN, if people are using government approved platforms,” Gatina said.
She added that using any unauthorised VoIP calling system is considered illegal in the UAE and would be considered a violation as per Article 34 of the Cybercrimes Law.
The VoIP applications that TDRA allowed for use during the pandemic are as follows:
Remote working and E-learning applications
• Microsoft Teams
• Skype for Business
• Google Hangouts Meet
• Cisco Webex
• Avaya Spaces
• Mind Mina Telemedicine
• NextGenGP Telehealth
“TDRA constantly reviews the permitted applications, due to which the list above is subject to change. Therefore, before using a VoIP platform, I would suggest checking if it is listed by the TDRA,” Gatina said.