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New UAE cybercrime law: Penalties for fake news, misleading ads, online begging

The amendments are effective from January 2, 2022



File photo for illustrative purposes
File photo for illustrative purposes

By Sherouk Zakaria

Published: Tue 30 Nov 2021, 5:05 PM

Last updated: Tue 30 Nov 2021, 5:07 PM

Under the UAE's new cybercrime law, publishing and sharing fake news online, posting misleading ads and creating fake accounts are crimes.

The Federal Decree Law No. 34 of 2021, effective from January 2, 2022, covers new areas of the internet, bringing major amendments to the Federal Law 5 of 2012 on Combatting Cybercrimes.

The new law comes as part of the largest set of legislative reforms announced on Saturday for the next 50 years.

Ghassan El Daye, partner and head of litigation in Middle East at Charles Russell Speechlys, said the new cybercrime law reserves the rights of citizens and residents in the ever-growing digital arena.

“It’s a very advanced law that studies every aspect of the internet and social media, presenting a high-level vision of where the UAE is heading.”

He added: "The law captures the spirit of the UAE as a country that provides all the possible advanced tools to government entities, private sector, entrepreneurs and start-ups, yet lays out the correct use of the internet with firm rules.”

Among the key amendments is giving the convict the right to raise a grievance against the court ruling.

“The law presents firm rules but also gives convicts the right to formally file a grievance, under an expedited procedure, if they feel the verdict is unfair,” said El Daye.

Publishing and sharing fake news are crimes

The new law criminalises publishing and sharing fake news, rumours and misleading or inaccurate information that cause panic on online platforms. Violators will face at least one year in prison and a minimum Dh100,000 fine. The penalty increases to two years in prison and a minimum Dh200,000 fine if the crime was committed during pandemics, emergencies and crises.

“Under the new provision, online users who share inaccurate information or rumours are also part of the crime, not only the publishers. Now everyone has the responsibility to confirm the information they receive before sharing it or risk being jailed,” El Daye said.

He added: "This is important because we know how fake news tends to be attractive for readers to share without confirming its authenticity, which may unintentionally cause panic and confusion.”

For the first time, the law also defines the term ‘electronic robot’, with Article 54 stipulating that using or modifying electronic robots to share, reshare or circulate fake news in the country can land the offender a prison term of two years or a fine not less than Dh100,000 up to Dh1 million, or both.

Publishing information that does not meet media content criteria can land offenders one year in prison or a fine starting from Dh30,000 to Dh300,000 or both.

False ads and fake accounts

Under Article 48, posting misleading ads or engaging in unlicensed trading in cryptocurrencies can land the offender a jail term or fine not less than Dh20,000 and not exceeding Dh500,000 or both penalties.

Selling medical products without a license can lend the offender a fine or a jail term or both.

For the first time in the law, those who create a fake email, account or website in impersonation of another person are subject to a fine ranging from Dh50,000 to Dh200,000 or a jail term or both. The penalty escalates to two years in prison if the offender used the fake account to defame the impersonated.

The law also criminalises conducting online surveys and polls without a permit with a jail term or a fine starting from Dh100,000 to Dh500,000 or both penalties.

Online begging and defamation

The new law stipulates that using online platforms to beg for money or seek illegitimate help from federal and local authorities can land the offender in prison for three months or a minimum fine of Dh10,000 or both.

Users who promote an electronic currency or create a fake company online to collect money from the public without a license for the purpose of investment faces a five-year prison term or a fine starting from Dh250,000 fine up to Dh1 million or both penalties.

Defaming a foreign country can result in a jail term of six months or a fine ranging from Dh100,000 to Dh500,000 or both.

Grievance request

The law permits offenders to file a grievance to the relevant authority within three days of their knowledge of the verdict.

The relevant authority must process the case within one week. In case the grievance request was rejected, the offender has the right to appeal in the federal court in Abu Dhabi within a week of receiving the rejection, and the court has one week to rule to issue an order regarding the appeal.

Electronic surveillance and rehabilitation

The law gives the court the jurisdiction to place the offender, following penal reconciliation, under surveillance, prohibit them from using social media or any kind of online platforms, shut down their online platforms permanently or partially, or place them under rehabilitation.

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The court also has the authority to confiscate the devices, software, content or other means used in the pursuit of a crime, in addition to deleting the breaching material.

“Placing an offender under supervision enables authorities to ensure cybercrimes that pose a threat to society are not repeated and that online technologies are not misused. It aims to make the internet a safe space for citizens and residents”, said El Daye.

The law also extends the authority of the General Attorney to issue a case to block a website or platform that violates the law or commits any of the cybercrimes directed at UAE, even if the platforms are based outside the UAE.

sherouk@khaleejtimes.com


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