Precis - The UAE government has introduced a tough new cyber crimes law which imposes criminal liability on users and website owners and operators for various breaches. Due to the criminal element the law has extra-territorial effect. Website owners and operators with a local presence in the UAE, should pay special attention to this law as inadvertent breach can result in severe penalties.
What? The UAE government has introduced a tough new law on Cyber Crime (Federal Decree-Law No.5 of 1012 on Combatting Cyber Crimes) ("CCL"). Under this law certain activities which are common place on social media are now illegal in the UAE. For example under Article 21 it is prohibited to use technology to invade the privacy of another including the disclosure of conversations or photographs or "publishing news, electronic photos or photographs, scenes, comments, statements or information even if true and correct". Therefore, upon a strict reading of the law, if an individual posts a photograph of himself and another person online, but without the consent of the other person, then he will be committing an illegal act. Even the publishing of innocuous information online, such as a friends job offer will fall foul of the law. Theoretically these offences could result in imprisonment of at least 6 months and/or a fine of $40,500 to $135,000.
"Owners" and "operators" of websites and computer networks are also exposed to considerable liability under the CCL. "Owners" and "operators" are not defined by the law. Some offences also apply to those who "establish, manage or run a website or publish information on a network or other technology means". Again, these terms are not defined by the CCL but it is apparent that the CCL is intended to have wide application. Under Article 39 owners and operators of websites or computer networks are prohibited from saving or making available illegal content or failing to remove such content upon notice. Illegal content is not defined but when reading the long list of prohibited acts in the CCL, together with the items prohibited from publication specified in the Publications Law (Federal Law No. 15 of 1980 Governing Publications and Publishing), it becomes clear that the scope of liability for owners and operators is wide. In the example given above an owner or operator will be held criminally liable for failing to remove the offending photograph or post about the friends job offer. There has previously been some doubt as to whether the Publications Law would apply to online content, however, the issuance of the CCL has removed all doubt about the application of similar principles as those in the Publishing Law, to the cyber world.
So what? Offences under the law may be treated as criminal and therefore will have extra-territorial effect. A crime can be considered to have occurred within the UAE if any of its constituent acts occur in the UAE, or if the result of the acts has been, or is intended to have been, in the UAE.
Owners and operators of websites and computer networks now need to consider this law against their own positions. In order to minimise their liability they need to consider the importance of informing users of the potential liability, as well as undertaking active monitoring of their site for illegal content. Owners and operators with a UAE presence should pay special attention as their general managers or editors-in-chief could face personal criminal liability.