The use of virtual private networks (VPNs) is the highest in Arab countries, where the top five VPN services have a penetration rate of 23.8 per cent, according a report by Atlas VPN.
The report found that the top five countries in the Arab world that use VPNs are the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
VPN is a service that hides the user's real IP address and encrypts the online traffic. As a result, these changes prevent third parties such as the government, internet service providers (ISPs), or hackers, from tracking the user's activities online.
The report revealed that 3.82 million UAE residents downloaded VPN in the first half of 2020 with a penetration rate reaching 38.7 per cent. It was the highest rate among the Arab countries as well as worldwide.
The UAE was followed by Qatar, where 0.8 million residents downloaded VPN, making 27.9 per cent of the population. Oman comes third with 1.2 million downloads, accounting for 23.8 million, followed by Saudi Arabia with 5.4 million downloads and Kuwait at 0.55 million downloads.
The UAE has a strict internet policy that bans all content that violates the country's moral and religious sentiments, as well as puts national safety and security at risk, or puts national harmony in jeopardy.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services are also banned in the UAE, which is one of the main reasons expats choose VPNs as a solution to reach out to their families in their home countries.
Is it illegal to use VPN in UAE?
The UAE's regulatory body – Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) – had said that VPN may be used by companies, institutions and banks for internal purposes.
Though the use of VPN is not illegal in the country, there are certain guidelines issued by the government and the regulator. Misuse of VPN for illegal activities or to commit a crime is a serious offence under the country's laws. Moreover, using VPN by hiding the IP address to get access to websites, calling and gaming applications which are blocked by the UAE government is illegal.
"The usage of VPN in the UAE is not illegal if it is used as per the guidelines of the UAE government and TRA," Ashish Mehta, managing partner of Ashish Mehta & Associates, had said.
Article 1 of the Amended UAE Cyber Law states that using a "fraudulent computer network protocol address by using a false address or a third-party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery" is punishable with imprisonment and/or a fine of Dh500,000 to Dh2 million.
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