UAE tightens ban on VPNs with jail time, fines of up to A$725,000

By Chris Chamberlin, July 28 2016

Travellers caught using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the broader United Arab Emirates could face fines of up to A$725,000 or even jail time under hardened laws introduced this month.

Popular with business travellers, VPNs allow secure remote access to corporate networks back home, but can also be used by anybody to side-step local internet filtering laws and to access sites and content which would otherwise be blocked.

With the UAE barring a raft of online services including the voice and video calling features of Skype, Viber, FaceTime and Snapchat, VPNs were traditionally a great way to communicate with loved ones back home without being stung by global roaming fees or needing to buy a local UAE SIM card.

Once configured, connecting to a VPN proves as simple as flicking a switch on many devices, after which you’re free to use the Internet as though you in another country:

While the maximum fine stands at A$725,000 (AED2,000,000), even the minimum punishment of A$181,000 (AED500,000) if caught breaking the local laws will prove unaffordable to most – so you’ll want to rethink hitting that VPN switch while in the UAE.

We can’t imagine every single VPN session resulting in such hefty penalties, but realise that you’re more likely to be caught on certain networks than others.

Those include hotel wireless networks where you can only surf by providing your name and room number to log in, along with mobile data services where traffic is easily linked to your local or roaming SIM card.

Qantas, Virgin Australia, Emirates and Etihad Airways use the UAE as a springboard between Australia and Europe, with Sydney-Dubai representing Qantas’ flagship QF1 service and continuing through to London Heathrow.

Also read: Hands On: Norton WiFi Privacy VPN app

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

ChrisCh
ChrisCh

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

jianga

jianga

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Feb 2015

Total posts 128

Another reason why Asian hubs like SIN/HKG always wins over the UAE.

moa999

moa999

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1374

Wow.. Particularly when you can only connect to some corporate email systems using VPN

TheRealBabushka

TheRealBabushka

21 Apr 2012

Total posts 3034

So how exactly is the UAE govt going to promulgate this edict?

Some poor unexpecting visitor is going to be at the receiving end of this without even knowing it!

Disgraceful.

Chris2304

Chris2304

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Apr 2013

Total posts 387

I've used FaceTime using wifi in the EK F lounge in Dubai?

deanr

deanr

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 May 2015

Total posts 229

How recently was that? I tried a few months ago and it would ring but when you try to pick up it wouldn't connect. Same in the Etihad lounges too in Abu Dhabi.

Chris2304

Chris2304

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Apr 2013

Total posts 387

and without a VPN

deanr

deanr

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 May 2015

Total posts 229

In other words, the UAE government moves to protect its billion dollar state-owned telcos by blocking overseas VoIPs so that you have to pay for phone calls rather than calling people for free, and threatens people smart enough to get around that with jail time and insane fines.

Please, nobody tell Pauline Hanson...

sgb

sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

Please Explain...

traveller99

traveller99

18 Nov 2015

Total posts 105

If only it had to do with keeping revenue.  Unfortunately this is 100% about censorship, and the control of information.  VPNs enable residents to access information that the local authorities/government may not want them to see.  In the UAE if you were to access a cartoon of Mohammed or read a blog about atheism you could LITERALLY be executed or thrown in prison for life.  

PunditShafton

PunditShafton

12 Jun 2014

Total posts 69

"nobody tell Pauline Hanson..."

oops I already did

DBPZ

DBPZ

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

26 Feb 2016

Total posts 101

VPN is a technical term; how to define the VPN? Is Proxy-over-HTTPS VPN? Is SOCKS-over-SSH VPN? Is Asking-friend-to-foward-Emails VPN? As long as you allow information flowing trough the border, it is impossible to define this term.

ChrisCh

ChrisCh

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2925

The scope of this law extends to "Whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP address) by using a false address or a third-party address by any other means"

Chris_PER

Chris_PER

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Feb 2014

Total posts 451

A country that claims to be 1st world, yet doesn't allow the democratic basics.

undertheradar Banned

undertheradar Banned

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 662

i dont see how/why '1st world'democratic' references are of any relevance. Apparently AUST is '1st world/democratic', BUT look at all the NON FIRST WORLD/UNDEMOCRATIC ISSUES in OZ.. The 'labels' of yesteryear have become so blurred, that those labels are of little relevance, but it's human nature to place 'labels' on everything as it gives the 'hordes' a sense of security Just my opinion of course :). 

TheRealBabushka

TheRealBabushka

21 Apr 2012

Total posts 3034

I'm sooo glad I'm not flying on Qantas to London these days. So glad!

 

Serg

Serg

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

I never flown via Dubai and for sure never will. Thus I do not use Qantas on my biannually voyage to Europe and looks like I never will.

undertheradar Banned

undertheradar Banned

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 662

No different to travellers needing to abide by the VARIOUS laws of ANY country they travel to. Its just one of the 'quirks' that highlights how 'diverse' the human race. Do the research before you travel. Ignorance is no excuse.  Whether you agree or not is irrelevant.  

sgb

sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 745

Exactly, it's a bit like using the internet by 'Application' on China Southern...and getting a very limited service.

Serg

Serg

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

I knew without any deep research that it is very little for me to do in Dubai. Chris only confirmed that I was 100% correct.

jorgb

jorgb

23 Feb 2016

Total posts 34

Didn't realise, all my friends that work there use them. Musn't be that heavily enforced, I'll continue using mine when there.

Chris_PER

Chris_PER

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Feb 2014

Total posts 451

Please let us know if the jail has wifi ;)

travs

travs

21 Oct 2015

Total posts 27

Does this affect the airline lounges in the UAE? I'll need to make calls on Skype or Google Hangouts while there. This seems VERY inconvenient.

F8

F8

04 Sep 2012

Total posts 72

I suspect that this law may not aimed at private use individuls. I remember some years ago reading reports of people in Dubai being hit with hefty fines for selling IP phone calls to Asian workers at a big discount to the monopoly state carrier's rates.

wherring

wherring

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

28 Jul 2015

Total posts 2

Another reason to fly via Asia...

Serg

Serg

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

Yet another VERY GOOD reason not to fly to Europe with Qantas or any Gulf Carriers for this merit. IMHO it is plain breaking of human rights. “so you’ll want to rethink hitting that VPN switch while in the UAE” – nope, now I must have incredibly good reason to fly to Dubai and I do not have one and very unlikely that I will in foreseen future.

markpk

markpk

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Nov 2013

Total posts 449

We get it Serg, you hate Qantas...you've posted that fact like 30+ time recently...

So today you comment that you've never been to Dubai or possibly the Middle East...yet you are now indignitantly going to town on Qantas and (possibly) the ME3. 

Yet, what you have not addressed (so feel free to do so) is why you choose to fly to Europe via:

  • Malaysia - clearly a bastion of democracy - lets not even start on MH370...
  • Singapore - right behind Malaysia - should we talk about employee rights?
  • Hong Kong - the region China tolerates (only) because it makes serious money
  • China - see my point re Malaysia...or FOS, or FOR...

Other than Singapore, most if not all other hops to Europe have similar issues of varying magnitude...

 

But you continue to pound (primarily) on Qantas..? 

 

 

 

PS...

(I know I know Chris/David...I've probably breached the posting rules...)

ny152

ny152

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer GOLD

15 Sep 2015

Total posts 13

Yet another reason why Australia's flag carrier should not be aligned with the flag carrier of a country like this. I hate being forced to fly via Dubai on my way to Australia from Europe.  I hope the partnership is not renewed when it comes to an end.

Looking

Looking

10 Aug 2015

Total posts 118

I think Alan Joyce is frequently listed as a top 5 LGBT corporate businessman yet his airline is in bed with the airline of country where being gay is illegal. The tragic comedy of that, and given the punishments it truly is tragic.

Context VPNs are required to allow for using various social media apps in the UAE.

No Dubai for me!

RaptorNation158

RaptorNation158

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Aug 2014

Total posts 513

It's up to the Qantas Board of Directors to decide who they are in bed with, if there's monetary gain then AJ is practically forced to take it despite his personal disagreements.

mviy

mviy

05 May 2016

Total posts 524

Generally if you fly between AU and LHR on QANTAS you'd only be stopping in Dubai for an hour or two. I think it should be possible to live without a VPN for that amount of time.

Anyway I recall using one of the supposedly blocked services recently without a VPN whilst at DXB airport.

Serg

Serg

QFF

12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1446

However if you fly via Asia you can use VPN even if your aircraft just refueling like BA SYD-SIN-LHR one. Or in fact you do not even need any VPN because you can use free WiFi to make Skype call and frankly this is only what I need.

Yes, I can survive stopover in Dubai even without VPN and absent of pork on the plane’s menu, but I need to have incredibly good incentive to do so because there are way too many other choices around – cheaper, quicker and transiting via more friendly airports.

David

David

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2322

Everybody: let's keep this discussion on topic, which means VPNs in the UAE and issues directly related to this. That doesn't include criticising Qantas or the Qantas/Emirates partnership. Further off-topic posts will be removed and users who insist on posting same may also need to take a break...

TheRealBabushka

TheRealBabushka

21 Apr 2012

Total posts 3034

With respect David, the connection with Qantas is very real and cannot be isolated.

If you voluntarily visit Dubai or choose to fly Emirates, then you should be acquainted with the laws and customs of the UAE and be prepared to comply.

It is the people who fly Qantas and inadvertently get caught up in this because Qantas has chosen to align itself with Emirates in an intimate codeshare arrangement. It is not without merit for people who value Qantas to be upset with the continued EK/QF arrangement and to question the merits of QF managements decisions.

It pains people to choose not to fly Qantas because ultimately it is a brand that we love. But this doesn't mean we go everywhere and anywhere with Qantas. This relationship is a two way street.

deanr

deanr

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 May 2015

Total posts 229

Come to think of it, I wonder if this law also applies on aircraft registered in the UAE, like when you're on the Wi-Fi on Emirates or Etihad. Does anybody know if the usual UAE blocklists are also enforced on those airlines in the sky? Might give some hint.

icanfly

icanfly

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Jul 2014

Total posts 7

Oh well there goes some of your tourism dollars then..

 

At least they dont block facebook and youtube do they? And yes be interested to see how they inform users.. How many unsuspecting business travellers will get done when they are asked to keep tabs with the office while having their stopover during their business trip .Absurd

crosscourt

crosscourt

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 347

This whole concept is baffling by the UAE. Can you provide any more details on how this could be policed or how they would know you are on a VPN? Picture this... sitting in the EK first lounge and you are on-line and going through a VPN, suddenly you look up and there is airport security surrounding you. Yes an extreme analogy but I would just like to get a clearer picture of how this is going to be handled.

flyOFTEN

flyOFTEN

24 Apr 2015

Total posts 129

yet another good reason NOT to go to these Arab countries.

bloatedstoat

bloatedstoat

03 Mar 2013

Total posts 21

On the road I use a VPN as a pre-requisite to gain unfettered access through our company firewall to administer systems, without it I have no access at all.

I've had issues in the past gaining access to websites and servers whilst in Dubai; our company eventually made the decision to send us from Australia to Europe by way of Asia instead and we've never looked back.

leighsydnychina

leighsydnychina

Delta

22 Mar 2015

Total posts 13

Never could understand the idea of going to UAE or Qatar.  It is on the way to nowhere and a waste of time.  Dubai is a dump and like qatar, built on the bodies of slaves.  

bl812

bl812

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

11 Mar 2015

Total posts 174

soon we will be forced to wear burkas or hijabs at these airports-already they cannot pour alcohol from the bottles during ramadan as I noticed recently flying etihad business class soon there won't be any of this rotten pleasures of the west either.Meanwhile the royal family of the saudis surely know how to enjoy all earthly pleasures

PaulC

PaulC

QF

01 Jul 2016

Total posts 6

Quite interesting considering my last three interviews with Emirates were mandatory via Skype including the need to have an active connection to them whilst completing an interview task! 

Maybe a case of one rule for foreigners and one for the govenment monopolies!

180mis

180mis

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2012

Total posts 116

Firstly, I love reading the comments. They are often more interesting than the article! (sorry David/Chris )

Yes, AusBT has reported factually on the annoucement of the intention to punish people who violate this rule, however if you ask ex-pats there is a divide between the written rule and the reality. There are some rare instances where westerner's are thrown in jail however by and large the authorities are turning a blind eye.

I get the feeling this is a bit sensationalist (if that's a real word) 

Jonnie

Jonnie

09 May 2015

Total posts 34

It's mildly hilarious reading the hysterical post here...as in all ME countries, these censorship laws are for the control of local political dissidents and such and not tourists, transit travelers,  or even the local expat populations I dare say. I don't expect to see officers with WiFi sniffers prowling the DXB terminals or local Starbucks branches hunting down VPN scuffows.

Relax and let down you knickers...a bit over the top the posts here

HolidayBakerMan

HolidayBakerMan

Aeroplan

29 Jul 2016

Total posts 1

When I was working for a corporation privacy was always addressed wth a VPN. We would not be able to travel to this country doe to this rule.  

Alexaqua

Alexaqua

14 Feb 2012

Total posts 37

This is just the UAE exercising control over its citizens and visitors to ensure there are no issues with public security. The disgraceful part is that if there was a similar law introduced here in Australia it would be classified as racist by the very people from that part of the world.

 

It's simple really though, if you don't like that rule don't visit the UAE even as a stopover. 

andrewboj

andrewboj

28 Apr 2015

Total posts 6

http://gulfnews.com/news/uae/crime/using-vpn-what-uae-residents-need-to-know-1.1872123

Local UAE reporting on the issue, with input from local experts in the field.  Well worth reading to put it all in context.

robwillett

robwillett

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Nov 2010

Total posts 20

[Deleted by admin - profanity]


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