Baker Botts is pleased to issue the following alert for our clients concerning recent press reports regarding the prohibition on the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in the UAE:

Federal Law No. 12 of 2016 on Combatting Cyber Crimes has recently been promulgated by Federal Decree and amends Article 9 of Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 on Combatting Cyber Crimes.

Whilst some recent press reports have suggested that the new law has introduced a prohibition on the use of VPNs by any person in the UAE, our clients should note that it has been a crime to use a VPN in the UAE "for the purposes of committing a crime or preventing its discovery” since 2012 and that this crime has been punishable throughout this time by imprisonment or fines or both. Under the new law, this remains the case and the crime of using a VPN, for the purposes of committing a crime or preventing its discovery, will now be punishable by substantially increased potential terms of imprisonment and / or substantially increased potential fines. The substantive difference between Article 9 of the 2012 law and the 2016 amendment is the quadrupling of the potential fines from an upper limit of AED 500,000 to an upper limit of AED 2 million (approximately US$ 545,000) and the quintupling of the maximum potential imprisonment term from 3 years to 15 years.

Our clients should also note that the 2012 law, which remains un-amended in all other respects, also prescribes a substantial list of actions (including the accessing of several categories of online content), which are considered criminal offenses regardless of whether a VPN is utilized to undertake such actions or not.

Individual and corporate clients should be vigilant to ensure that they comply with the law at all times and to seek counsel in case of any doubt that they or their employees may not be in compliance with the law.