There is much censorship in the UAE while browsing the Internet. In this article, we will tell you how to get around Censorship in the UAE.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a collection of seven emirates, with Abu Dhabi serving as the largest and most resource-rich emirate. Political parties are prohibited, and the 7 hereditary monarchs retain ultimate power in all administrative, legislative, and judicial matters.
Minimal elections are conducted for a national advisory committee. Both nationals and noncitizen residents, who make up the vast majority of the population, are subject to considerable limitations on their civil liberties.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) continued to have considerable restrictions on internet freedom during the coverage period, which was marked by intense online censorship, severe regulatory requirements, and widespread surveillance.
Internet access and internet content are severely constrained in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), despite being one of the more free and progressive of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. Because of this, Freedom House has rated their press and internet freedom as “not free.”
Using a VPN, you can get around Censorship in the UAE. A VPN is capable of hiding your IP address and changing your location on smart devices. Additionally, it can boost your security and privacy while browsing the web. Not to mention, a top-tier VPN like ExpressVPN can unblock other streaming platforms, like Hulu + live TV, Netflix, YouTube TV, and many more.
Note: To not break any laws accidentally, always ensure you familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations in your country. We don’t force to break any country’s law.
Censorship in the UAE over the past years
There has been a considerable crackdown on internet content and freedom of expression for people who post or remark online as a consequence of the passing of a 2017 law intended to combat cybercrime and terrorism.
The UAE government has taken action to lessen the coverage of both domestic and international events, and it has also taken legal action against anyone who has criticized the government online.
Academic Nasser Bin Ghaith was given a 10-year prison term after being charged with publishing multiple tweets that were thought to mock, criticize, or discredit the government. Similar to this, online activist for human rights Ahmed Mansour was detained for “promoting sectarian hatred.”
Visitors and residents of the UAE may be concerned about having unrestricted access to the internet given the severe regulations on online activity and content. They would like to comprehend what is censored and how to gain unrestricted access to the web.
A January 2019 investigation into the hacking operation “Project Raven,” for which US intelligence specialists were hired to investigate dissidents, political opponents, activists, and journalists, uncovered new information concerning the government’s surveillance practices.
Users were still subject to arrest and prosecution as retaliation for their online behavior. Two recent examples include a man who was detained in Dubai in May 2019 for recording and sharing a viral video of an altercation between a hotel employee and a woman and a British woman who was detained in Dubai in April 2019 for derogatory comments she made on Facebook about her ex-new husband’s wife.
All through the coverage period, the administration persisted in blocking sites that violated its rigorous censorship policy, such as blogs and news websites that berated the administration, platforms of human rights organizations, content related to the LGBT+ community, and pornographic websites.
The president changed three sections of the cybercrime law in August 2018 to include stronger penalties for facilitating contact between terrorist organizations or any other “unauthorized group”
What is the reason for censorship in the UAE?
The UEA extensively regulates the internet due to its intricate political structure. A collection of seven smaller emirates, including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah, makes up the UEA.
Although the United Arab Emirates has a president and a prime minister, every individual emirate also functions as an absolute monarchy with total self-government. The Federal Supreme Council, comprised of the seven monarchs, elects the president and prime minister.
In the United Arab Emirates, censorship is employed to uphold the authority of these 7 absolute monarchies by denying UAE residents access to material that is hostile to the current administration, Islam, the government, or is pro-democracy.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) uses its broad authority to restrict political content as well as target reporters who are hostile to the government.
The TRA focuses on subject matter that “offends against, is objectionable to, or is contrary to the public interest, public morality, public order, public, and national security [of the UAE]”.
The information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure is strong, and connection speeds are fast, for Emirati users. However, because the major telecommunications firms are either entirely or in part owned by the government, there is little competition and exorbitant rates.
Blocking may occur for well-known Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services. The majority of well-known VoIP services include restrictions on mobile connections.
The only businesses with a license to offer paid VoIP services are Etisalat and Du, whereas WhatsApp, Skype, and other OTT voice calling services can only be used using fixed-line or Wi-Fi connections.
Both Facebook’s and WhatsApp’s voice features were disabled immediately after their respective launches in 2015. Since 2013, FaceTime, Apple’s video chat service, as well as Viber have been prohibited.
Even though the FaceTime software may be used on phones bought outside of the country, Apple decided to sell its iPhone handsets to UAE mobile phone operators without the program preinstalled. In 2016, the VoIP function for the gaming chat software Discord was disabled.
Regulatory agencies usually fall short of conducting themselves freely and fairly. Without any supervision or transparency, the TRA manages service providers and takes executive decisions about watching, filtering, and blocking services and websites.
Authorities have kept a plethora of platforms with critical content of the administration as well as other sensitive material blocked. Increased self-censorship has been a result of the oppressive environment of the past few years, which is characterized by the possibility of legal proceedings or harassment as well as elevated amounts of surveillance.
According to rules implemented in March 2018, social media influencers involved in commercial activity needed to obtain a license from the National Media Council.
While the TRA mandates that ISPs remove material that promotes terrorism, pornography, gambling, and political speech that poses a threat to the established order, in reality, authorities frequently block sites that challenge the legitimacy of the executive branch or address societal taboos.
In comparison to 2,256 during the same period in 2017, the TRA claimed in October 2018 that it had blacklisted 1,666 platforms in the first half of the year. 47.6 percent of the internet sites were prohibited due to pornographic content, 28 percent due to fraud and scams, and the other internet sites were blocked due to drugs, piracy, terrorism, and other “illegal acts” using automatic filtering systems.
Numerous political blogs, numerous atheist and secular platforms, at least one platform that reports on the treatment of Emirati political prisoners, and websites linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and local NGOs are also restricted.
Some constraints on online media are unfair and out of proportion. The TRA directs ISPs to prohibit websites that feature political speech deemed harmful to the established order, as well as anything related to terrorism, pornography, and gambling.
Infringement of user rights
In December 2018, a 10-year prison term for prominent campaigner Ahmed Mansour on a cybercrime allegation was maintained, and people were being detained over social media remarks.
A January 2019 investigation showed that US intelligence officers had been enlisted into a hacking operation that spied on targets like dissidents, political opponents, activists, and journalists. Surveillance activities are carried out with no judicial scrutiny.
The use of NSO Group spyware by the government on comparable targets was revealed in documents that were leaked in August 2018.
Although the constitution’s Article 30 specifies that freedom of speech “must be guaranteed within the limitations of the law,” several regulations can really restrict online communication, and these rights are not actually upheld.
Furthermore, there is a lot of executive involvement, therefore the judicial system is not independent.
Numerous laws impose criminal penalties for actions taken online. Since a wave of widespread unrest in the region in 2011, the UAE has joined the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in enacting laws that make online criticism of the government illegal.
Numerous legal online actions are become illegal by the cybercrime statute. Online gambling, transmitting pornographic material and sharing stuff that is thought to violate another person’s privacy are all punishable by hefty fines and jail terms.
The law against cybercrime also makes it illegal to disrespect religious beliefs as well as the state, its leaders, or its symbols. The penalty for making calls to alter the political system is life in prison.
For expressing political, social, or religious views online, the government regularly imprisons people; in recent years, these offenses have resulted in lengthy prison terms. Online activists are detained arbitrarily.
The legality of VPNs in the UAE
If you live in the UAE and wish to browse the internet without restriction, you can use a VPN to mask your IP and browse online secretly.
A 2016 update to the rules controlling cybercrime makes it illegal to use a false IP address in order to “commit a crime or prevent its discovery.” ISPs in the UAE ban websites advertising VPN services.
Some people question whether this was an attempt to make using virtual private networks (VPNs) illegal. No one has been charged with anything as of yet for using a VPN in the UAE. However, using a VPN in conjunction with other criminal activity would result in further penalties.
Best VPNs for getting around Censorship in the UAE
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The UAE, and Dubai in particular, are known for being progressive and becoming more and more westernized. But like its more conservative neighbors, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom controls online behavior and material.
The UAE government is able to closely regulate what content its residents can access by using a single regulatory body that has control over state-owned ISPs. In a similar fashion to Turkey, they can also monitor their online chats.
Under the new anti-terrorism rules, political critics, opponents of Islam, and even journalists recording news events objectively run the possibility of being detained. They run the prospect of being charged with offenses with ambiguous definitions, such as “undermining national unity.”
Although not technically illegal, using a VPN is discouraged. The government-owned ISPs use extreme measures to obstruct access to websites that provide VPN services. The 2016 revisions to the cybercrime legislation that made using a VPN to “commit a crime or prevent its discovery” illegal could be viewed as a step toward the nation outlawing VPN use entirely.
Internet filtering is therefore pervasive in the UAE despite its image as a progressive nation. Internet content and speech restrictions are likely to get worse in the future.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is there content censorship in UAE?
Internet censorship is practiced by the United Arab Emirates to stifle political dissent and to support its patriotic narrative. This is why the material that supposedly undermines Islamic principles or criticizes the administration is often outlawed in the UAE. However, you can still view this information.
How does the government restrict the internet in the UAE?
The primary governing body that issues bans or site takedowns, as well as accuses people of crimes committed against the UAE’s censorship efforts, is the TRA (Telecommunications Regulatory Agency).
In addition, the government controls the two biggest ISPs in the nation, employing them to censor access to certain websites.
Is there a way I can surpass the restriction to use free internet in the UAE?
Despite official efforts to restrict Internet freedom, you can use the internet without restriction if you reside in the UAE or intend to visit there.
You must utilize a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for that, which conceals your IP and enables anonymous web browsing. ExpressVPN is the best VPN for UAE residents because it offers a smooth, reliable, and enjoyable online experience.