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The UAE Federal Law by Decree No. 34 of 2021 (the “New Law”) on Countering Rumors and Cybercrimes was introduced in the UAE amongst the new legislative introductions in light of UAE’s 50th anniversary which has now come into force on January 2nd, 2022. The New Law is a reform of the repealed Federal Law by Decree No. 5 of 2012 on Cybercrimes (“Repealed Law”).
Considering the remarkable increase in cybercrimes in the UAE due to the rapid development in information technology systems, the New Law offers greater protection to citizens and residents in the UAE against online crimes given that it is an advanced law that studies a plethora of internet and social media aspects in light of the ever-growing digital era.
The key amendments to the New Law include, but not limited to, the following
- criminalization of keeping or disclosing the geographical location of a third party without his/her consent;
- conducting surveys without a license;
- promoting adverts to mislead the consumers;
- spreading rumors;
- or even capturing a photo of a third party without his/her consent.
On first impression, the New Law contains some vague and ambiguous definitions and meanings. However, it is anticipated that all the ambiguity would be clarified following its implementation by the UAE Courts.
Invasion of Privacy
The New Law criminalizes whoever uses an information network with the intention of invading the privacy of another person’s private or familial life without his/her consent.
As an example, something as simple as taking a picture for your Facebook or Instagram account could potentially land you into trouble. Capturing a photo of a landmark for example with a random third party in the background may now be punishable when captured and/or posted without the third party’s consent. The key concept, however, is intent.
This does not mean that taking pictures in public places is now forbidden, as long as the privacy of others is protected while taking the pictures. For instance, it has become common for people to blur out background faces in photos, or to place digital “stickers’ on faces to hide the identities of third parties who did not intend to be in the photograph, and whose privacy should not be invaded.
Under Article 44 of the New Law, it is expressly stated that for such an action to be criminalized, two factors have to be present, (i) the capturer’s intent to invade the third party’s privacy; and doing so (ii) without the permission of that party; however, all is subject to the UAE Courts’ approach on such provision.
Conducting Statistical Surveys or Questionnaires Without a License
It is now prohibited to conduct surveys or questionnaires without a license when utilizing any information network under the New Law. It can be implied from this new provision that even students for instance, who, in light of their academic term, are not allowed to conduct surveys for scholastic purposes absent a license.
Under Article 47, it is not mentioned who is the relevant competent authority responsible for the issuance of such license.
Criminalization of Fake News and Rumors
Under the New Law, various acts of spreading rumors and false news, are now punishable by either (imprisonment and/or (a hefty fine).
The Repealed Law provided for the punishment of whoever spreads rumors or false news using any information network, for the purpose of harming the reputation or the status of the UAE, its institutions, or its Rulers. However, subsequent to its amendment, it extended the aforementioned harm to the public, removing its limitation to UAE entities and Rulers only.
Article 52 of the New Law stipulates that whoever uses the information network to “announce, disseminate, re-disseminate, circulate, or recirculate false news or data, or false, tendentious, misleading or erroneous rumors or reports, or rumors or reports contrary to what has been announced officially, or broadcasts any provocative advertisements that would incite or provoke the public opinion, disturb the public peace, spread terror among people, or cause harm to the public interest, the national economy, the public order, or the public health” shall be punished with at least one year of imprisonment and a fine of not less than AED 100,000. However, this punishment shall increase to at least two years of imprisonment with a fine of not less than AED 200,000 in case any of the mentioned actions set out under Article 52 of the New Law result in the incitement and provocation of the public opinion against any of the UAE entities or authorities, or is committed during epidemics, crisis, emergencies, or disasters.
It is implied from the text of Article 52 of the New Law that an online user (on social media for instance) could be punished or held liable under the New Law by merely sharing or forwarding or distributing an article or comment containing inaccurate or misleading information/news, even if the said user is not the publisher of such information/news. Online users now have an obligation to check the credibility of the information it intends on sharing.
Such provision has undoubtedly been influenced by the Covid-19 outbreak, wherein a plethora of fake news in this relation have been published on social media and re-circulated by online users. As an example, during the Covid-19 epidemic, two men were accused of fabricating a story about several members of an Emirati family dying of Covid-19 which was subsequently denied by the National Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA). The two men were sentenced to imprisonment and the channel’s correspondent and his interviewee who presented the false news, were found guilty before the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal for publishing a fabricated story.
False Advertisements and Fake Accounts
The New Law finally criminalizes the creation of a fake email account, a fake website or a fake social media account while misleadingly attributing it to any natural or legal person The punishment shall escalate, if the offender uses the fake account in a manner that offends the impersonated, or the fake account is attributed to a governmental entity.
The New Law further criminalizes whoever advertises any goods or service through misleading s/methods which includes inaccurate data and/or whoever advertises, promotes, or deals in any form or encourage others to deal with a digital currency or any payment unit that is not officially recognized in the UAE or without obtaining a license from the competent authority.
There are plenty of fraudulent techniques that cybercriminals use to target victims. For instance, cybercriminals often post false adverts on renowned commercial websites to promote goods that do not exist. The Cybercriminal subsequently attempts to convince the victim to transfer the money prior to the goods being delivered. Once the cybercriminals receive the payment, they would disappear and deactivate the e-mail address and/or phone numbers. Some cybercriminals go so far as to create their own websites or email addresses to promote a fake business. For example, there are several cases where cybercriminals would create an email address almost identical to that of a well-known company but would change a dot or a single letter making it hard for a victim to notice such difference for the purpose of tricking the victim into disclosing valuable and personal information.
Promoting Medical Products without License
The New Law criminalizes the promotion of medical products without a license. In other words, whoever creates, manages, or supervises a website or information network to promote or sell unlicensed medical products or copies of licensed medical products shall be punished with imprisonment and/or fine.
Knowing that physical begging is illegal under the UAE laws, the New Law now criminalizes any act of online begging using any technological means under Article 51. Additionally, Article 51 criminalizes whoever requests assistance using the same means from federal or local government entities in an offensive manner or contrary to the truth.
It is unclear under this Article as to what is exactly meant by “assistance”. In other words, it is unknown if such assistance corresponds to any sort of assistance one may require from governmental entities, or is only limited to financial assistance.
Making Available and Refraining from Removing Illegal Content
Making illegal content available and refraining from removing it subsequent to an order from the competent authorities in whole or in part was and still is punishable by law. However, previously, the punishment entailed imprisonment with an unspecified fine. Pursuant to the New Law, the punishment includes a fine of not less than AED 300,000 or not more than AED 1,000,000 without imprisonment.
Article 54 criminalizes whoever creates or modifies an E-robot, with the intention of distributing false news or data inside the UAE or whoever enables third parties to distribute such false news or data. An E-Robot is a software or a program which consists of a set of coded commands or instructions that tell an electronic system what automated tasks to perform.
Invoking Amicable Settlement with the Victim
Under the New Law, a person being accused of Cybercrime can choose to follow an amicable settlement process, with the Cybercrime victim or his representative, either before the public prosecution or the court irrespective of the status of the criminal case, as long as the judgment did not become final yet.
However, one shall keep in mind that such right of invoking the amicable settlement process is limited to certain provisions only (Articles (2) Clause (1), (6) Clause (1), (9) Clause (1), (11) Clause (1), (42) Clause (1), (43), (44) and (45)).
The new sophisticated and well-developed provisions of the New Law are a direct result of the undefined and limitless online world of Cybercriminals and their activities. In this world, the effortless access to information and personal data, and the easy circulation of news and information, has become uncontrollable, to the detriment of many who fell victims to scams, false advertising, and other Cybercrime activities.
Whilst it is so that Cybercrime is evolving, so is Cybersecurity and relevant legislation to control it. Therefore, the New Law is welcomed by many, and Cybercriminals should take note.
You can report Cybercrimes online through the following channels:
- The E-Crime website.
- Aman service- Abu Dhabi Police.
- Dubai Police’s website.
- The ‘My Safe Society’ app launched by the UAE’s Federal Public Prosecution (the app is available on iTunes or Google Play)
If you suspect that you are a victim of Cybercrime or need more information on this issue you can contact our legal team at Mahmood Hussain Law Firm who is equipped to assist you: https://mahmoodhussain.net/contact/
Authored by: Roaa Abou Assy ( Associate).
 According to the official records of the Cybercrime Department at Dubai Police, the complaints and calls related to cybercrimes rose by 3,000 percent since the launch of the E-Crime platform in the past three years
 Khaleej Times: UAE authority denies deaths of 5 of a family due to Covid-19
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