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Is it illegal to use a VPN in the UAE? It all depends…

Is it illegal to use a VPN in the UAE? It all depends…

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A Virtual Private Network (VPN) allows an individual or a company to have an extra level of security online, and at the same time, an individual can access geo-restricted foreign content. However, whether or not your use of a VPN is legal will be determined based on your online behavior.

Technically, a VPN enables the user to communicate with shared or public networks in a way as if they were directly connected to those networks. Global companies headquartered in several geographies may use a VPN to connect to their international locations for additional security features. Simply put, VPN technology makes it possible to create a private network while using a public connection by masking the Internet Protocol (IP), which is your public identity, so your online activities are essentially untraceable. The important advantage is that VPN provides a secure connection and greater privacy than public wi-fi or a secure hotspot.

VPN use by individuals and businesses

While businesses may have many protocols in place to ensure data security, VPNs may still be necessary, particularly when remote work and social distancing measures are adopted by businesses globally. As employees and offices are spread across multiple geographies, it becomes even more important to transmit data over a secure and encrypted network.

Individual users connected to the internet can access the VPN remotely from a different location and once they are connected, they can take advantage of the benefits of the resources available on the secure and private network as if they were directly connected to the network server.

Will you commit an illegal act, if you use a VPN?

Article 9 of Federal Decree-Law No. 5/2012 on Combating Cybercrime as amended by Federal Law No. 12/2016 requires meeting the basic components of punishing anyone who uses a VPN service to commit a crime, namely:

a person who circumvents a computer network protocol address using a false address, a third-party address, or by any other means; And commits a crime or prevents its discovery.

While the previous provision in the Cybercrime Law provided for a lower penalty, the updated provision has increased the penalty.

Neither the previous nor the updated ruling penalizes the use of a VPN on its own, though. In order for such use to be considered unlawful, the primary test is to determine whether a crime has been committed or to prevent the discovery of such a crime. Article 9 stipulates imprisonment and a fine of no less than 500,000 dirhams and not more than 2,000,000 dirhams.

Does this mean that using a VPN is legal?

The UAE Telecommunications Regulatory Authority has recently stated publicly regarding the use of VPNs, stressing that there are no laws prohibiting companies, organizations and banks from using their private networks, provided that this VPN technology is not abused.

The most important question is what can be considered abuse and therefore a punishable offense under Article 9 of the Cybercrime Law. The spirit of the legislation is to prohibit online behavior that is dangerous to society. Therefore, if the VPN is used for legal purposes, then just using the VPN itself would not amount to an illegal crime.

Where companies operate remotely and employers provide employees with access to VPNs for business continuity purposes, employers should observe precautions when granting such access to their employees, particularly providing a disclaimer to employees that the use of VPNs is for business-only purposes and any misuse is responsibility and their consequences.

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