Cybercrime Policy Analysis – Tackling Cybercrime in the U.A.E.


Crime in the United Arab Emirates has never been at the forefront, as local civil defense forces resiliently prove their capability of handling both minor and major crime cases, such as Abu Dhabi police’s capture of a veiled assailant which had been identified and restrained in under 48 hours, following the dismantling of an explosive device (Saif bin Zayed: The “Al Reem Ghost” in Police Custody, 2014).

The eerie law of cybercrime is what continues to perplex the general public, with crimes related to privacy invasion, leakage of sensitive personal information, such as credit card and banking details, as well as online slandering. The UAE has been the first country in the entire Middle East and North Africa region to pass laws related to cybercrime and cyber terrorism in 2006 (Kshetri, The Global Cybercrime Industry: Economic, Institutional and Strategic Perspectives, 2010). Statistical data gathered from Norton’s UAE Cybercrime report of 2011 suggest that 76% of Internet users in the UAE had been subject to cybercrimes, costing the country an estimate of almost 2.3 billion dirhams. This is particularly alarming, considering telecommunication companies, as well as banks, have begun promoting the use of e-services for financial payments (Kshetri, Cybercrime and Cybersecurity in the Global South, 2013). Software piracy also hinders job creation and revenues, citing 566 million dollars and the 841 jobs if piracy rates were to be reduced by 10% over the course of four years, starting from 2010 (Leslie, 2014).

Understanding Cybercrime Law in the UAE

Following the controversial detainment of an innocent bystander, holding incriminating pieces of evidence related to a physical assault and spread all across social media, Article 21 states a punishment of a minimum of 6 months’ jail time, alongside a fine between 150,000 – 500,000 dirhams for “Publishing news, electronic photos or photographs, scenes, comments, statements or information even if true and correct” (Federal Decree-Law no. (5) of 2012 On Combating Cybercrimes, 2012). In this related incident, an Emirati man was charged with crimes of violating cybercrime law by publicly uploading a video of an assault taking place on social media. Had charges been actually pressed, the innocent bystander would have been charged with twice the amount in fines, that being 20,000 dirhams, and a twice as long prison sentence of two years, compared to the individual that engaged in physical assault (UAE arrests man for sharing road attack video, 2013). While the law was indeed violated, there was no criminal intent on his part. This raises concerns of harsh, unjust punishments for minor offences that could be treated as serious felonies, which can result in negative public relations, as the UAE, particularly Dubai, strives off tourism.

Correcting the Problem

In order to avoid future pitfalls, the government, specifically the Ministry of Justice, should revise its policy of cybercrime law in the UAE to ensure that no cases of misdemeanors or violators of Article 21, without criminal intent, be subject to prosecution or fines exceeding the amount charged, or sentenced, be equivalent to a criminal treated with assault or other serious felonies. The same recommendation would apply to those publicly uploading images that include photographs of strangers without their explicit permission. As detailed by the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime, the UAE doesn’t quite follow procedure, as it is lacking in identifying criminal intent when compared to Australia, UK, and the USA (Vielhauer, 2011). By including criminal intent as part of the screening process, the revised policy would assist in reasonably treating citizens involved in simple cases of misdemeanor, rather than an actual, serious cases of felonies. Citizens would be more mindful and less likely to be deported for such offenses, as the state aims to correct tarnished public relations. Article 42 states: “The court may decide deportation of a foreigner who is condemned in any of the crimes specified in this Decree Law upon execution of the punishment adjudged.” (Federal Decree-Law no. (5) of 2012 On Combating Cybercrimes, 2012). Similarly, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) should focus on censoring specific content on websites that violate cybercrime law, rather than blocking the entire network domain of social media networks, for instance, which would render them inaccessible (Deibert, 2010).

Policy Implementation

The Ministry of Justice was tasked with implementing the cybercrime policy in the UAE. Two new laws were issued in 2012, specifically Law No. 5 that is addressed as the Cyber Crimes law, and Law No. 3 that was established under the National Electronic Security Agency for the protection of state communication. (The Report: Abu Dhabi, 2014). As a result, a great deal of emphasis was put on the criminalization of public defamation of the country, as well as its citizens, alongside public slandering of individuals, as described under Articles 20 and 21 of the cybercrime law. The events of the Arab Spring were likely to be of great influence, as protests sparked in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria, followed by demonstrations, revolutions and plots to overthrow the government, which were mainly conducted online on social media networks (Saba Bebawi, 2014). Hence, in an effort to combat similar scenarios, the government established the 2012 cybercrime law, effectively criminalizing any individual found in violation of the law, in order to combat terrorism and subdue forms of criticism about the government that may incite uprisings, hatred or violence.


In essence, the current state of cybercrime law does not necessarily match the output or capacity of other developed nations, such as the USA, UK and Australia with their policy of cybercrime. Failing to identify criminal intent as part of the screening process can result in unwarranted fines, jail sentences and deportations for common misdemeanor on behalf of public ignorance, rather than committing a serious felony with criminal intent. It is therefore imperative that the Ministry of Justice, in conjunction with the TRA, revise the current state of the Cybercrime law by factoring in criminal intention, which will assist law enforcement in identifying legitimate violators and issue just punishments, rather than criminalize innocent bystanders for being unaware of the laws unforgiving nature.

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