The United Arab Emirates has virtually ended digital privacy when it implemented a royal command to ban all use of VPNs and proxy servers in their country. It has caused a setback to many businesses in UAE, which were reliant on VPNs in the provision of their services.
VPNs are a security measure that guarantee the encryption of all incoming and outgoing data on a given internet connection and protects its users from eavesdroppers. It’s difficult not to make the connection of how the ban is a strategic decision in furthering UAE’s agenda on digital surveillance. Others suggest it is a move it is to further solidify the market position for leading telecommunications companies in the UAE. Without proxy services that make free calls possible, people of the Emirates are forced to seek out paid options.
The former strategy doesn’t hinder the latter.
The announcement reads that the punishment for using these privacy tools could lead to temporary imprisonment and a fine of up to two million dirhams (~ €485,200) and not less than a quarter of that sum.
Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nayhan, current king/president of UAE, has emphasized the importance of cyber-security as a growth sector for the UAE. Under his presidency, UAE’s journey towards becoming the cyber-hub of the Middle East has accelerated, but it now denies people the basic tools of privacy. Many perceive it as a digital setback.
Privacy International technologist Christopher Weatherhead told SCMagazineUK.com, “Tools such as VPNs are paramount to protecting people’s privacy online. With governments and companies engaging in practices designed to track and surveil online activities, VPNs offer one of the few methods of mitigating some of the risk that this poses.”}
This royal command comes as no surprise. The total government of the UAE tolerates no freedom of speech. Criticizing the government and the ruling family is strictly prohibited, and while it was still possible to do it over the Internet, it now becomes increasingly more difficult. Such dissenting speech counts as cyber-crime and is punishable by imprisonment.