We live in a world where people are constantly on their phones, tapping into the world of social media to stay up to date with friends, read the news and share opinions. But it is important to understand social media in a legal context.
Melissa Cotta, a junior associate at Al Kabban & Associates, advises: “As a resident of the UAE, it is important to respect the rules and culture of the country.
“It is important to note that the laws implemented are not limited to social media but can also be applied to instant messaging services such as WhatsApp and BBM if a complaint is made to the relevant authorities.”
This was brought sharply into focus by last month’s deporting of an Australian expat who posted content on Facebook that violated the law. The woman said she was unaware of the legislation, and in many Western countries (and others) what she did would not have been deemed a crime.
In 2012, HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, issued Federal Law No. (5) on combating cyber crimes. The law clearly addresses slander, extortion and – crucially – invasion of privacy.
The woman was in breach of article 21. This states that invading other people’s privacy by publishing news, scenes, photographs, comments or statements (even if true and correct) as a means of defamation or offending another person is an offence punishable by imprisonment of at least six months with a fine of
AED 150,000 to 500,000.
“More commonly residents have been getting in trouble over the use of their social media for shaming other members of public by posting pictures, videos or sound bites of what they deem is either a breach of law by the individuals or groups or merely a ‘funny joke’ against individuals they may or may not know,” explains Cotta.
“Regardless of the intention behind the photograph, video, sound bite or other tool used to identify others, it is illegal to do so without their consent,” she says.
Crucially, there is no real defence against the accusation that an offence has been caused. If someone chooses to be offended by a Facebook post, no matter how truthful or well-intentioned it is, the law implies that the perpetrator is guilty.
So what other acts are punishable under the law?
Invasion of privacy including eavesdropping, recording, sharing private conversations through social media (whether audio or visual), or taking/possessing/sharing photographs without permission is an offence punishable by at least six months’ imprisonment and a fine between AED 150,000 and 500,000.
A person may be imprisoned for one year and will be compelled to pay a fine between AED 200,000 to AED 500,000 if they use social media to amend or process a record, photo or scene for the purpose of defamation or offending another person or invading their privacy.
Slander, determined by Islamic sharia, including insulting or accusing another person, is an offence punishable by imprisonment and a fine between AED 250,000 and 500,000.
Also publishing content that may endanger national security, public order and the higher interests of the State is an offence punishable by temporary imprisonment and a fine of up to one million dirhams.
Please note this is not the full extent of offences covered under Federal Decree-Law no. (5). To read the full extent of the law visit: bit.ly/1gDnVCj
WORDS: Colin Armstrong