Can WhatsApp overcome a VOIP ban in the UAE, now that Expo 2020 is here? – News from the Middle East and the Gulf

Reports have revealed that anyone at the Expo 2020 site can freely and without paying a fee open WhatsApp and make video and regular calls.

It’s against UAE rules and regulations, so what’s up?

WhatsApp on the EXPO website

The authorities let the people make calls through WhatsApp and other internet applications on the grounds of Expo 2020.

For years, most applications using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services have been blocked in the UAE, with the exception of a few such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, which are primarily used for business meetings. and remote work, and not for everyday mobiles. conversations.

Paid apps such as BOTIM, which are licensed for use in the UAE, enable internet phone calls similar to WhatsApp.

On September 29, 2021, Reuters reported that people could make and take voice calls using WhatsApp and Skype from the Expo site, which will open to businesses and other exhibitors from nearly 200 countries on Friday, October 1. WhatsApp’s internet services appeared to be cut off outside the site, according to Reuters.

Does the fact that Dubai is likely to attract 25 million business visitors and tourists weigh in the minds of regulatory authorities in the UAE? How long will this relaxation of the rules last and will it apply to other emirates?

Blocking calls using the popular WhatsApp, FaceTime and Skype apps has particularly frustrated UAE residents who have been separated from their families and friends by restrictions during the pandemic.

The two UAE telecommunications operators, Etisalat and Du, have enabled Microsoft Teams over wifi and mobile data connections as well as Blackboard, Zoom and CloudTalk.

WhatsApp rules under review

Talks are in progress lift the ban on certain VoIP services like WhatsApp and Facetime in the UAE, the UAE government’s cybersecurity chief previously revealed.

Speaking on the sidelines of the GCC cybersecurity conference and exhibition in December last year, Mohammed Al Kuwaiti, UAE government’s chief cybersecurity chief, said WhatsApp has been unlocked for a limited time for test use.

Al Kuwaiti stressed that there are still some regulations to be taken into account and the authorities are working on them.

Regulatory easing started in 2020

As early as 2018, calls were made to remove VOIP bans in the United Arab Emirates.

In March 2020, calls to the United Arab Emirates to lift its ban on Internet calling platforms such as Whatsapp and Facetime got stronger amid the coronavirus lockdown.

The United Arab Emirates then decided to lift their ban on two VoIP platforms: Microsoft’s Skype for Business and Google Hangouts. It also made the Zoom video calling platform available.

But popular services like WhatsApp, Facetime, and Skype have remained blocked for voice and video calls, meaning residents typically have to use paid services from one of the state’s telecommunications providers, Etisalat and Du.

Some have tried using virtual private networks, or VPNs, to access VoIP platforms, but these can lead to hefty legal penalties, including fines and even jail time.

At the time, Mahmoud Adi, founding partner of Abu Dhabi-based venture capital firm Shorooq Partners, told CNBC: “The productivity achieved through VoIP, in my humble opinion, is much more rewarding for our economies. as the revenue generated for government international calls.

Legal ramifications of using a VPN

The use of virtual private network (VPN) in the United Arab Emirates is allowed if the VPN is used in accordance with the guidelines of the UAE government and the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).

The VPN can basically be used by businesses, institutions and banks for internal purposes.

Any other use of the VPN which masks the IP address to access websites / calling apps / gaming apps blocked by the UAE government is illegal.

Section 34 of the UAE Cyber ​​Law can punish such acts with imprisonment for at least one year and a fine of at least UA 250,000 (68,120 $) and at most ($ 272,480).

In addition, Section 15 of the UAE Cyber ​​Law states that one year’s imprisonment and a fine of at least $ 41,000 and not more than $ 136,240 will be applied to those who receive or intercept deliberately any communication via a computer network and later disclose the information obtained. through the illegal reception or interception of communications.

A person convicted on the basis of the provisions of the UAE cyber law can also be deported from the UAE, in accordance with Article 42 of the said law.

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