In today’s technologically driven world, people utilise electronics for all sorts of activities, whether it be home appliances, workplace appliances and even personal pocket-sized devices. Not only has the progression of technology made life easier, but it has also made the details of each and every person available on the World Wide Web through social media, credit card statements, etc. Such exposure has led to various crimes related to the invasion of privacy, thus obligating countries to consider implementing legal consequences for such actions. The UAE has specifically implemented various laws to protect the privacy of its citizens and has taken such measures to criminalise eavesdropping and the publication of private information without consent.
UAE Penal Code on Breach of Privacy
Article 378 of the UAE Penal Code (UAE Federal Law No.3 of 1987) states that eavesdropping, recording or transmitting any pictures or conversations in a private place through any device is punishable and the perpetrator will be sentenced to detention and pay a fine. However, this article also mentions the consent of the other party or parties involved to be an exception to this crime. For those who publish news, pictures or comments that breach the privacy of individual or family life, the same penalty applies, regardless of whether the information publicised is true or not.
Although the duration of detention and the amount to be paid for the fine is not mentioned, the Article, before it was amended (by UAE Federal Law No.34 of 2005), stated that the perpetrator would face a maximum detention of one year and a fine not exceeding Dhs.10,000. A public servant engaging in any of these acts may be sentenced to detention for a maximum period of seven years in addition to a fine.
Other Legislation surrounding Breach of Privacy
UAE Federal Law No.15 of 1980, in Article 79, prohibits the publication of any news, pictures or comments which would tarnish the image of an individual, his property or his commercial name. It also prohibits such publication for the purposes of blackmail or any such malicious act intending to defame the individual. The penalties for those who fail to follow this provision are described in Article 86.
UAE Federal Law No.5 of 2012, in Article 21, strictly criminalises the invasion of privacy through eavesdropping, pictures and publications by using electronic means regardless of whether it has been posted online or merely saved on a device.
Article 43 of UAE Federal Law No.7 of 2002 also forbids the keeping, displaying and publishing of any pictorial work without consent (involving specific exceptions) of the person it represents. The breach of this Article results in the civil liability of the perpetrator. This means that if the defendant is found guilty of such an act by the Court, the claimant will receive damages (if any) and an order will be given for the picture to be removed. This Article only applies, however, if the picture has been taken privately and not in a public place.
Why is it a Crime?
In May 2014, a bus crash which had killed 13 labourers was filmed by a man (member of the rescue team dispatched to the scene) and shared on social media. The video displayed the aftermath of the crash, showing the bodies of the deceased and injured workers; the man was arrested. Here, the crime was committed at the point that the man had started recording the footage of the accident, completely disregarding the privacy of the individuals involved. This situation makes it quite obvious as to the reason that such acts are considered criminal. Such material, especially if published online, may cause unrest and possible alarm. It may also result in complicating the job of the authorities in the midst of such terror.
A question that arises, however, is whether such recordings or pictures can be used as evidence during court proceedings. UAE Federal Law No.35 of 1992 states in Article 221 that if a law makes void any procedure used during criminal proceedings, then that particular procedure cannot be used. Therefore, in this context, since the act committed is criminal in nature, it cannot be used as evidence in court. In 2011, a woman in Ras Al Khaimah was sentenced to a month in jail and a fine of Dhs.200 for recording a telephone conversation even though it had proved the recipient of the call guilty of theft. A similar case in 2013 of a man who filmed an official attacking another person went viral on social media when it was shared, leading to him (the man who filmed the scene) being arrested. Hence, although a certain recording or picture may prove a party guilty, it cannot be used against that person in criminal proceedings and may hold the person who took the picture or recording liable for breach of privacy.
Although the punishment given by the UAE government for crimes relating to eavesdropping and breach of privacy may be seen as severe by some, it is important to note that these measures are necessary to reduce the number of violations of Article 378 of the Penal Code. Such procedures are necessary to be implemented, especially in today’s technologically advanced world, in which committing such violations can be done with the click of a button.
Aghaddir Ali, ‘Woman faces jail for recording call’ (Gulf News, 11 Oct 2011)
Anon., ‘The Law Surrounding Eavesdropping, and Privacy’ (Aqazilaw, 30 Sep 2019)
Anon., ‘UAE arrests man for sharing road attack video’ (BBC, 18 July 2013)
Fiona Robertson, ‘A Picture is Worth…? Considering the Legal Position of the UAE for Publishing Photographs Online’ (Al Tamimi & Co., Oct 2015)
M. Narciso, ‘Overview: The Law Surrounding Eavesdropping, and Privacy’ (STA, 12 Jan 2016)
Noorhan Barakat, ‘Man who leaked gory video of bus accident victims arrested’ (Gulf News, 13 May 2014)
UAE Federal Law No.15 of 1980 concerning Publications and Publishing
UAE Federal Law No.3 of 1987 – Penal Code
UAE Federal Law No.35 of 1992 concerning the Criminal Procedural Law
UAE Federal Law No.5 of 2012 on Combating Cybercrimes
UAE Federal Law No.7 of 2002 amended by Law No.32 of 2006 regarding Copyright and Related Rights