12 Sep 2022

Cybercrimes and the Digital World – A UAE Perspective

Authored by: James Dunne and Maria Lezala

In Brief:

  1. With the world shifting to the increased use of cyber information technology, electronic information systems, and other information technology platforms for business, communication, entertainment and social interaction purposes, the incidence of cybercrimes is on the rise.
  1. In light of this, the UAE bolstered its cyber protection laws through the enactment of UAE Federal Law No. 34 of 2021 on Countering Rumors and Cybercrimes (the Cybercrimes Law).
  1. In this article, we discuss some of the key provisions of the Cybercrimes Law which may be encountered by the average person, the penalties that apply, and the need to ensure that laws governing our digital activities are adhered to in similar manner to those which apply to ‘real world’ activities.

Over the last 20 years, the transition to a global digital economy has gathered pace at an unprecedented rate. Daily interactions with colleagues, clients and others, whether locally or around the world, are increasingly by way of Zoom, Teams or other video conferencing infrastructure. ‘To the minute’ updates for news, or notifications by schools, utility companies, a favourite restaurant, or anyone that is ‘followed’ online, are now disseminated via social media and other electronic platforms (such as WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Snap) directly to our mobile phones or other electronic devices. Entertainment is ‘streamed’ to our home or personal devices, whether music (Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal or others) or movies and television shows (Netflix being the most famous of the many services on offer) while digital service platforms now facilitate the ability to buy goods (noon, Amazon), order food (Deliveroo, Talabat), or order groceries (InstaShop), all online.

These changes represent a monumental and positive shift in how we interact with others. However, the rise of information technology, and ease of access to the digital economy from our fingertips, has also seen an increased potential for abuse or misuse to occur, and the risk of widespread consequences (whether accidental or deliberate) far beyond what would have been possible, let alone imagined, 20 years ago.

Since the 1990s, legal frameworks across the world have continuously adapted to address developments in the digital world, with notable and well-known examples being the liability of internet service providers, and the legality of online music and movie sharing via ‘peer to peer’ and other torrent services. Locally, the UAE has addressed crimes in a cyber world for many years, previously through the UAE Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 on Combating Information Technology Crimes and more recently through its replacement, UAE Federal Law No. 34 of 2021 on Countering Rumors and Cybercrimes (the Cybercrimes Law), which came into effect on 2 January 2022 and which addresses the use of information technology or information technology equipment.

The provisions of the Cybercrimes Law are broad and cover a wide range of activities. Of these, the average person will commonly benefit from provisions designed to protect them (for example, with regards to fake websites) but other provisions may inadvertently be triggered when, in the course of activities in a digital economy, the average person does something without being aware of the consequences or realising that the activity is in fact illegal. These activities include:

  Activity  

  Provision  

  Penalty  

  • Infringing an individual’s personal electronic data and/or information, by for example: acquiring it, possessing it, modifying it, destroying it, revealing it, copying it, disseminating it (without the requisite consent).

Article 6

  • Imprisonment of not less than 6 months and/or a fine of not less than AED 20,000 but not more than AED 100,000.

 

 

  • Collect, save, or process personal data and information of UAE nationals and residents of the UAE in violation of any legislation in force in the UAE.

Article 13

 

  • Imprisonment and/or a fine of not less than AED 50,000 but not more than AED 500,000.
  • Unlawful disclosure of confidential information obtained at that person’s work or by virtue of their profession.

Article 45

  • Imprisonment for at least 6 months and/or a fine of not less than AED 200,000 up to a maximum of AED 1 million.
  • Unlawfully (without consent) acquiring a third party’s code or password to a website, information network etc.

Article 9

  • Imprisonment and/or a fine of not less than AED 50,000 but not more than AED 100,000.
  • Creating fake websites, emails and electronic accounts (such as social media accounts) and attributing these falsely to any natural person.

Article 11

  • Imprisonment and/or (ii) a fine of not less than AED 50,000 but not more than AED 200,000.
  • Using information technology to extort or threaten another person to force them to do something or to refrain from doing something.

Article 42

  • Imprisonment for not more than two years and/or a fine of not less than AED 250,000 but not more than AED 500,000.
  • Dissemination through the use of information technology of obscene materials which violates public morals.

Article 34

  • Imprisonment and/or and a fine of not less than AED 250,000 but not more than AED 500,000.
  • Insult another person or attribute a quality to them that would make that person subject to punishment or contempt by third parties

Article 43

 

  • Imprisonment and/or a fine of not less than AED 250,000 but not more than AED 500,000.

 

Notwithstanding each of these provisions, the scope of Article 44 is particularly broad and various of the prohibitions may inadvertently be breached by the average person. Broadly, Article 44 addresses the use of information technology and/or information technology equipment to unlawfully, and without consent, to reveal secrets, or invade the privacy, of another. Offences under Article 44 include:

  • eavesdropping, intercepting, recording, transmitting, or revealing conversations, communications or audio or visual materials;
  • taking photos of third parties in any public or private place, or preparing, transferring, disclosing, copying or keeping electronic photos;
  • publishing news, electronic photos, images, scenes, comments, data or information, even if it is true and genuine, with intention of harming a person;
  • transmitting, or publishing photos of injured persons, the dead, or the victims of accidents or disasters without permission or consent of the relevant parties concerned; and/or
  • tracking, monitoring, revealing, transmitting, disclosing, copying or keeping the geographic location data of third parties.

Penalties for these offences include imprisonment for at least 6 months and/or a fine of not less than AED 150,000 but not more than AED 500,000. It is worth highlighting that the use of information technology or equipment to modify or process any record, photo or scene with the intention of defaming or insulting another person can result in imprisonment for at least one year and/or a fine of not less than AED 250,000 up to a maximum amount of AED 500,000.

Conclusion:

In the digital world of 2022, an activity carried out using information technology and/or information technology equipment can be accomplished faster and more easily than was previously the case. However, the consequences for abuse/misuse, or unintended and far-reaching consequences for an affected party, are also far more significant. This is particularly the case where defamatory or harmful material in reference to an individual is disseminated online.

As a result, the provisions of the UAE Cybercrimes Law are intended to provide a framework under which participation in a digital world, and the use of information technology and/or information technology equipment, is carried out in a manner that does not infringe the rights of others.

It is therefore essential to ensure that what was intended to be an innocent, harmless, or humorous activity carried out online, through social media or via other electronic means, is not in fact a breach of privacy, a defamatory act, an offence against public morals, a data protection breach, or other offence under the Cybercrimes Law or other UAE laws.

Hadef & Partners LLC advises and/or represents clients before the UAE civil and criminal courts regarding claims/criminal complaints in relation to breaches/offences committed under the Cybercrimes Law, UAE data protection laws, and other UAE civil and criminal laws. Please contact us should you require any assistance or further information.

 
 

This article, together with any commentary, does not constitute legal advice. It is provided solely for information purposes on a complimentary basis, without consideration of any specific objectives, circumstances or facts. It reflects then current views of the writer which may modify in time and based on differing objectives, circumstances or facts. A writer's view may differ from views of colleagues and/or the firm. You should seek legal advice on each specific matter. Access to this article does not form an attorney-client relationship.