Q: I took a photo of myself in a public place in Abu Dhabi and accidentally included someone in the background. If I publish this photo on Facebook could I be prosecuted?
A: There is no escaping technology in this day and age, and while it brings a wealth of positives, smartphones and social media also have negatives that could land someone in legal trouble.
Laws are there to serve and protect people and they are revised to keep pace with the changing landscape of our world. As social media and “selfies” are now governed by the laws of the land, it is important for people to be aware of where they stand when it comes to using their smartphones.
Taking a selfie is clearly a personal matter and anyone is entirely free to do so but if you also picture someone else in the photo, either by mistake or deliberately, is viewed as an invasion of that person’s privacy and it is in violation of the law.
If the person in your photo you finds out what has happened, they have the right to take you to court for breaching his or her privacy and taking their picture without consent.
Punishment for being found guilty in such a crime can be severe.
Federal Law No 5 for 2012, on social media, states that a person found guilty can be jailed for a period no fewer than six months, be fined between Dh150,000 and Dh500,000, or both.
Expatriates are also deported, according to article no 42 of the law.
As a lawyer, I have seen people who have taken a selfie end up in court, even if it was for a slight reason, such as showing social media followers a funny hat someone was wearing or a person’s questionable dress sense.
The lack of intent to harm here does not make the deed any less criminal and you may face jail, a fine or both if you were taken to court and convicted.
The law states: “That who commits an act which breaches the privacy of other people’s lives by listening to a conversation, recording or sharing a clip, or taking a picture of a person without their consent, faces jail or a fine.”
The same article of the law states that posting news, pictures or comments on any public channel that are related to other people’s private lives, even if true, can lead to charges and punishment.
Therefore, everyone in the UAE should be careful when reaching for their smartphone to take a selfie, that an innocent bit of fun does not turn into something far more serious for them.
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