The UAE’s tough approach to managing internet use and social media activity has long been publicised and in recent years has become more prominent through a spate of high profile cases. One such case from July this year was that of an Australian expatriate, who was fined approximately USD3600 and deported from Abu Dhabi for posting a picture of a car taking up two disabled parking spaces along with offensive remarks on a social media website. The judgement for this case was made under Federal Decree-Law No.5/2012 (the “Cybercrime Law”), which was implemented to combat cybercrimes including any slander, defamation and provocation of hatred, racism and sectarianism online or through any other information technology means. Cases such as this however suggest that these laws might have broader consequences than might previously have been anticipated. 

The latest development in this area comes in the form of UAE Federal Decree-Law No.2/2015 on Combating Discrimination and Hatred (the “Decree”), which was issued on 15 July 2015 and came into effect one month after its publication in the Official Gazette. The Decree is aimed at eliminating discrimination, hatred and blasphemy committed through “any means of expression”; a wide definition which includes any words, writings, drawings, signals, filming, singing, acting or gesturing delivered through any audio visual or print means including any publications on the internet, telecommunications networks, electronic websites and industrial materials. It also criminalises the production, circulation and possession of any form of media which is discriminatory or provokes hatred or contempt. If found guilty, offenders could face penalties including imprisonment (ranging from six months to more than 10 years) and/or fines (ranging from AED50,000 to AED2million). 

In addition to the individual penalties imposed on perpetrators under the Decree, there are potentially far wider reaching implications in an employment context. Under Article 17 of the Decree, the representatives, directors or agents of a legal entity, as well as the legal entity itself, will be attributed with liability and subject to the same penalties where they had knowledge of an employee committing an offence in the name of the company or in its interest. It is therefore advisable that UAE businesses ensure that they have sufficient formal systems and restrictions set up to educate their employees of the potential consequences under the Decree and to prevent an employee subjecting the company and its management to criminal liability. 

In light of the Decree and developments in the application of the Cybercrime Law and internet monitoring, individuals, employees and employers need to become more aware of the risks associated with posting online. The TRA have launched a campaign to help educate users in the UAE on the risks and consequences caused by careless internet use and raising awareness on being cautious while sharing data on the internet. 

It seems that the UAE is becoming more active in policing and monitoring internet use. In March 2015 the UAE’s Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (“TRA”) announced in a press conference that they have started monitoring social media networks for inappropriate and abusive behaviour as part of a crackdown on social media bullying. To enable this, the TRA has established an alert system that will detect when certain key words are being used. Social media and internet monitoring has also been successfully used in other areas to identify criminal conduct and Dubai Authorities have already blocked hundreds of social media accounts this year.