Cyber-crime law to fight internet abuse and protect privacy in the UAE

Even Facebook could be held liable for illegal activity on its site, say experts, under the UAE's new internet law, which is the most comprehensive in the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East.

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ABU DHABI // The UAE yesterday implemented the most detailed and comprehensive cyber-crime law in the Arabian Gulf and wider Middle East.

For the first time, the full range of offences that can be committed using the internet has been codified, along with the sentences for those found guilty.

Crimes punishable under the new law include using the internet to transmit, publish or promote pornographic material, gambling activities and indecent acts.

The decree issued by the President, Sheikh Khalifa, also provides legal privacy protection to personal information online, including credit card and bank account details and electronic payment methods.

"This is the most detailed piece of legislation regarding the subject in the Gulf," said Dr Ali Al Jarman, managing partner at the Dubai law firm Prestige Advocates.

"The law includes penalties for insults to religion and inciting conspiracy which are some of the most relevant issues at this time. It includes everything from privacy and personal protection to human and drug trafficking."

The new law builds on a 2006 decree on cyber crime, which Dr Al Jarman said was very general and did not provide clear guidelines to protect the public interest.

"However, this new law has managed to encompass everything needed to safeguard against the possible violations that can take place in this rapidly evolving technology," he said.

The law creates offences of violating the privacy of others by eavesdropping and electronic publishing of information and photos, even if what is published is authentic.

It will also be an offence to publish information online, or through any information technology means, with the intention to engage in trafficking in persons or human organs.

Under the new law, anyone convicted of creating or running websites that deride or damage the reputation or stature of the country and its rulers will face a minimum jail sentence of three years. Expatriate offenders will be deported.

Anyone using electronic sites to call for disobeying the laws and regulations of the State, as well as to call for demonstrations, marches and similar activities without obtaining a licence, also faces imprisonment.

The new law is also aimed at operators, publishers and owners of websites that are involved in crime, according to Rashid Tahlak from Rashid Tahlak Advocates and Legal Consultants.

"The law is very detailed and states that who sets up the website where a crime occurs, the person who manages it, the owner of the website and employees in it may be held liable," he said.

"If a person publishes something on Facebook that is illegal, Facebook might be held liable according to this law."

"The UAE is a fast developing country and hosts people from many cultures and backgrounds," said lawyer Yousif Al Bahar, from Al Bahar Advocates.

"Technology is spreading fast here and such a law is needed to protect individuals from rapidly evolving technology crimes."