Black Friday

Considering a UAE VPN? An Important Legal Warning

Ben Taylor

Ben Taylor

August 1, 2016

If you’re considering using a UAE VPN (specifically: using a VPN service whilst in the United Arab Emirates), you should think very carefully in the wake of some recent news.

According to multiple reports, including this one from The Register, the use of a VPN service in the United Arab Emirates is now legally outlawed. Anyone caught using a UAE VPN risks a fine of up to 2 Million UAE Dirham (over US$500,000) and / or prison time.

The New UAE VPN Law

The new law reads as follows:

Whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP address) by using a false address or a third-party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery, shall be punished by temporary imprisonment and a fine of no less than Dhs 500,000 and not exceeding Dhs 2,000,000, or either of these two penalties.

Clearly, this is open to some interpretation. However, the UAE isn’t really a place you want to find yourself arguing technicalities with the authorities. Not when people have been fined $68,000 for swearing on WhatsApp.

With the UAE population consisting primarily of expats, there are many reasons why the use of a UAE VPN is popular. The local Internet is heavily censored. This means no porn; no gambling; and restricted use of VoIP services. It’s therefore little wonder why so many people make use of a VPN to get around these blocks.

Many do so for reasons no more nefarious than keeping in touch with home cheaply or watching some familiar TV. However, these people are now at risk of serious criminal sanctions. Given that the censored parts of the Internet are off-limits in Dubai, it’s potentially difficult to argue that you’re not “committing a crime” as per the wording of the law above.


The Impact of the New Law

The announcement of the law has caused some vocal online reaction. One commenter on The Register even predicts that it could cause companies to leave Dubai. Many global firms use VPN as a legitimate way to connect their systems between countries. With this in mind, who will want to risk ending up behind bars for doing so?

Commenters clearly take the new sanctions very seriously. People do end up in jail in the UAE for actions that aren’t considered crimes in many other places in the world. As such, using a VPN there is now a risky business.

We have a list VPNs for the UAE here. We have added a warning to it since this news was announced. Essentially, if you want to use a UAE VPN you must do so at your own risk. If your only reason to do so is to catch up on Netflix, it’s a rather significant risk to take.


Ben Taylor

Ben was a geek long before "geek chic," learning the ropes on BBC Micros, before moving on to Atari STs and IBM compatibles. He was "online" using a 1200bps modem before the Internet was even a thing. Now, after two decades in the industry, he writes about technology for various publications, operates a few websites of his own, and runs a bespoke IT consultancy based in London.

28 responses to “Considering a UAE VPN? An Important Legal Warning

  1. The world is becoming more right wing and shitty and majority of countries are appauling 3 big western ones are shit az hell – fickin religon’ nd fkn opression fkn fkn fnk fkn fuck

    1. it is prohibited to mask your identity for security reason, i guess that influence from abroad are not welcomed or only for authorized persons.

  2. I am sorry but this article’s content is neither diligently researched nor is it giving a realistic picture of the actual facts. It would be very useful if those posting articles here would do their homework to research appropriately and to give a realistic correct picture rather than making people panicking. I don’t have the time to do more writing here. For those who are interested in a reflected view on the facts I offer the following link. Aside the many upsides of todays blogging unfortunately also a lot of humbug is posted. Disappointing to find such thing on a serious world class site like BestVPN. A call to everyone always doing their own research.

    1. Hi pawo,

      This article was published as “breaking news” because we take the duty of protecting our readers seriously. Based on the article you have linked to, the new laws have come into effect, and anyone caught using a UAE VPN does risk a fine of up to 2 Million UAE Dirham (over US$500,000) and / or prison time. According to Gulf News,

      “Private individuals, aside from corporate organisations, don’t run the risk of going to jail and paying a fine as long as they don’t use VPN to commit a crime.”

      But a) this is simply the opinion of a lawyer, and not the law itself, and b) is reliant on the selective application of the law (which can be selectively applied differently at the drop of a hat). So sure, you might, in practice, not get into trouble for simply using a VPN to watch Netflix in the UEA, but is purely at the whim of UEA officials. If I was in the UEA, I would think very carefully before using a VPN for trivial reasons.

    2. it is an old news – even female deputies are concerned and are not allowed to (their connection with their cellphone are stopped or activated on restricted area only) – i am very surprised that so many persons do not understand that it is worst in eu or usa_uk … arabs countries are very tolerant & open but the monarchy or muslim mentality is very different/strict : you must change your habits & respect them more.

      1. Hi Toto-vpn,

        VPNs are not banned in the EU or US (although admittedly there is a lot of government surveillance, which is why you need a VPN!).

        1. i meant that using a vpn or a privacy tool in almost all countries are clearly named as privacy tool except in borderline democracies or false governments … pgp (so encrypted tool too) is not allowed in the Europeen.Union (stallman asked it few weeks ago) , using vpn in the usa is maybe tolerated but inside the borders not outside where it should be suspected as a hidden-communication … i was speaking about female deputies from EUA of course.

          1. Hi toto-vpn,

            PGP and VPN are not banned in the EU, and using a VPN is not restricted at all in the US (although the NSA and FBI may have compromised US-based VPN providers).

    3. Ahhhhhhhhhhh, so it’s not actually USING A VPN that is illegal – it i s USING A VPN TO COMMIT A CRIME which is illegal.

      Perhaps this would have been a better way to word the document, as you have quite incorrectly indicated that using VPNs are illegal. They are not – using them to COMMIT A CRIME is illegal.

      So in other words – use your VPN all you like to protect your connection, just don’t do anything that would be considered a crime, ie gambling, porn etc.

      The article could probably have clarified this.

      1. Hi Joel,

        As I say, this is the opinion of a single lawyer, and conflicts with everything else that I have read regarding the situation. Kellie Blyth may well be correct (her argument certainly sounds reasonable), but until I see official confirmation that she is, I think it best to keep this warning up.

  3. You can only die once. If you were smart enough to avoid having children, or even a lover, there is not much that can be done to you. Tell the oppressors to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine and go out laughing!

  4. If we in the West think that our governments won’t do the same thing surreptitiously just because of our publicly asserted ideologies, then a lot of many of us are already being effectively handled. So long as it’s possible, someone will do it. And governments have far too much to gain from controlling their citizens, and virtually unlimited resources to invest in doing so.

    1. Hi Guy,

      This is far from clear. It could be that the government is simply bluffing – tryig to scare people into compliance. Or it could be using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) techniques to identify VPN traffic. How effective might this be? Who knows? Even if advanced DPI techniques are being used (unlikely but possible) VPN obfuscation technologies such as obfsproxy bridging and running VPN inside SSL or SSH tunnels will almost certainly evade detection. Given the extremely harsh punitive measures now in force if caught, however, it is up to individuals to decide whether the risk (undefined as this may be) is worth it. If you are a political activist then it may well be worth the risk, but probably not so much if you just want to watch Netflix.

      1. Hi Douglas, it’s probably quite easy, just like NetFlix can identify and block vpn users. Keep in mind there is a finite number of IP addresses given to VPN providers and they’ve probably all been indexed by now. Also the UAE gov is trying to simply identify VPN users, how well encrypted etc, is irrelevant.

        Take a look at this fascinating 1st hand account of an ethical hacker that was almost recruited for this vile project;

        1. Hi Rick,

          Thanks for that link, and you may well be right. Having read through the article, though, it seems that the UEA is indeed investing some very invasive and far-reaching surveillance and tracking technologies. Not good.

    2. as soon as you are allowed to use their services in their territory as friend ; you must have a name or an address identifying you ( i guess that they have a list for authorized person only on a data/table) ; if not , you are hidden behind a vpn/firewall and it is forbidden … it is like call someone ( mayday perhaps) lost in the sea , without identification, you can be considered as a pirate … so ; they choose their friends and the users of the net … prohibiting the others to be involved in their business.

    3. Correct me, if I am wrong. I feel its very easy to detect who is using vpn. Its just that they can’t know your activities. When the govt can’t determine what are you doing, but your bandwidth is getting consumed, then it can clearly conclude that the user is going a vpn.

      1. using a vpn means that these facts are hidden :
        1 who you are
        2 where you live
        3 what you do
        they do not “conclude”_suppose_guess ; it is depending on different factors like the quality of your vpn provider , the device used (iphone or laptop e.g.) , your model threat , their priorities etc.
        i do not know if the embassy/library/consulate/journalist office offers a quiet & secure place for that but they did it in the past.

        1. Hi again toto-vpn,

          When using a VPN your ISP knows who you are and where you live (but cannot see what you get up to the internet as your data is encrypted and it just sees the IP of your VPN sever). Information such Who you are and where you lived etc. is hidden from any websites you visit.

          1. it is the reason why it should be better to find a better place for using a vpn like an embassy/library/consulate/journalist office depending on your model threat (good luck).

  5. #actions that aren’t considered crimes in many other places in the world
    hmm.. have you read the prison’ statistic of the e.u ?
    is brexit involved ?

  6. Hmm, is this April 1st?! Nope August 1, 2016, well, another month, another country added to the growing list that curtails online freedom, sad and puzzling.

    1. sovereignty … Eu lost it, Brexit wins one, and the arabs countries are building a new kingdom without EU or UK influence … resident non-Muslims are not anymore welcome.

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