Many believe that maximum punishment will not exceed removing offensive content
Lack of awareness regarding UAE cyber laws can be a precursor to finding oneself in the midst of a legal case, experts in the capital said.
Contrary to public opinion, an Abu Dhabi-based lawyer has revealed that these laws exist to clamp down on inappropriate behaviour as opposed to free speech.
According to the UAE’s official Federal Decree Law No (5) on combating cyber crimes, it is illegal to invade someone’s privacy by “photographing others or creating, transferring, disclosing, copying or saving electronic photos [in addition to] publishing news, electronic photos or photographs, scenes, comments, statements or information” without permission.
Making slanderous statements and insulting others can be punishable by imprisonment, a fine, and even deportation.
Recently, an Australian woman in Abu Dhabi was fined and deported by the court for posting a photo of a wrongly parked vehicle with some ‘bad comments’ on her Facebook post.
“This is the first time I am hearing about such rules. I never knew they existed, so it definitely comes as a surprise to me that someone could complain to the police about me and file a criminal case if I post a photograph of them without their permission,” Emirait Saeed Al Reyami told Gulf News.
Despite their unfamiliarity with the rules, residents still noted that they regularly practise caution when posting information and engaging with others online.
“I think that people are generally responsible in the UAE when surfing the web. However, I do believe that regardless of whether there’s a law about it or not, people should be considerate of others when interacting on social media because it is, after all, a public platform,” said 32-year-old Indian resident Ashfana Abdul Hamid.
As far as matters of public welfare are concerned, Ashfana believes that authorities should exert efforts across all media outlets to promote education on the law to the public.
“I definitely think that there should be a campaign of some sort to raise awareness about what constitutes a crime under UAE cyber laws, similar to the initiatives being implemented to make people more informed about traffic rules,” she added.
Al Reyami accentuated the importance of creating these cyber laws, saying that they could prevent people from insulting others and injuring their reputation.
Meanwhile, Khalil Kanaan was surprised to hear about the punishments for breaking internet laws. “I had no idea you could be fined or even deported over something you say or do on the internet. I didn’t think that the penalty could go beyond asking the website being used to convey the offensive information to take it down,” he said.