Are brands at risk from the UAE’s new cyber-crime law?

Taking many media watchers by surprise, the United Arab Emirates President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has approved a new cyber-crime law for the UAE, Federal Legal Decree No. 5, this week. The online law was duly announced by the Emirates official news agency WAM yesterday evening (you can find the contents of the law itemised here).

The cyber-crime law is bound to be the subject of much discussion and criticism internationally, since, among other things, the law appears to crack down on political dissent online. However, the law is quite wide-ranging and specifies a long list of activities that the UAE considers illegal including pornography, fraud, human trafficking, privacy, blasphemy, libel and drug dealing. Some will argue that this law, in fact, also addresses some of the online media issues that have been slated for the next version of the UAE’s media law. So, given that the cyber-crime seems to govern a wide range of Internet and social media activities, what will its impact on business be?

At first glance, the new law seems to restate many activities that are already considered illegal under existing UAE laws and merely ensures that they are specifically considered illegal if carried out online . The biggest sector that the law would seem to affect is the media. Although, a law was passed a few years ago to protect journalists from being imprisoned for doing their job, in a time where the lines between traditional journalism, citizen journalism and social media conversations are blurry ones, this week’s law is relevant to media, news and published opinion. There are no surprises here for those familiar with media in the UAE and, if the media field already had a few mines in it, then one could say that the law simply makes some of those mines a little larger.

For other online businesses and online marketers, the law does seem to remove ambiguities about the legality of communications and comment by individuals online, but this is unlikely to affect business communications. This is also a criminal law, not a civil law, requiring that the police or the courts initiate any actions against law-breakers. Furthermore, it seems likely that most breaches of this law could be handled with a simple take-down request to the content publisher concerned. Nevertheless, it might be a good time to review some company policies, such as the following:

1. Website legal policies – Do your website policies work under UAE law or are they just copy and pasted from a random US website? Federal Legal Decree No. 5 makes breaching an individual’s privacy online a criminal offence. So, if you’re collecting data via your website, better to have all the ‘paperwork’ in place to ensure you’re protected against any possible breach of privacy claims.

2. Social media & digital communications policy – Do you have a social media policy governing company and employee digital communications in place? Does this map to your HR policy and staff contracts or is it just something knocked-up quickly by PR? As a brand, it may be unlikely that your communications will ever breach UAE cyber-law, but it’s possible that employees’ online activities might.

3. Image rights and privacy – Do you have a policy in place to manage the appearance of employees, customers, partners and professional models in your images and videos? Bear in mind that an image taken by a smart-phone and uploaded to Instagram is technically online publishing. Do you have appropriate terms and conditions for your latest funny photo competition? Do you conduct any hidden-camera consumer research? What were you planning to do with that snap of those high-ranking officials on your stand at the Big Five show? Better to plan and have a policy than wait for a crisis.

These types of legal and copyright issues are all ‘no-brainers’ to many communicators and routinely planned for by advertising and marketing agencies already, but there are plenty of brands getting away with cutting corners and simply assuming that no such laws will ever be relevant to their business. Time will tell.

See also, Alexander McNabb’s take on the UAE’s new cyber-crime law on his own blog Fake Plastic Souks.

Want to read more?

If you liked reading this post about digital media and regulation, you may also like the following:

Could your brand commit a content crime? (November 2013)

A wake-up call for aspiring citizen journalists in the UAE (July 2013)

We are all publishers (March 2012)

The Freedom Meme (September 2011)

Who’s Afraid Of A Regulated Web? (May 2011)

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Carrington Malin

About the Author ()

Carrington Malin is co-founder of Spot On PR and has been managing sales, marketing, media and communications campaigns across the Middle East for more than 20 years. He likes technology, surfing and chicken liver salad. You can contact Carrington via Twitter at @carringtonmalin or via email at carringtonm(at)spotonpr(dot)com

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