Privacy issues are particularly important in the contemporary world of intensified communication and interaction between people and organizations through conventional media and digital communication. The technologies advance rapidly globally, imposing new requirements for the legislative system to respond to the changes and identify and regulate possible threats to the right to privacy. In particular, regulating the use of information and disclosing it by individuals or the press is subject to Constitutional regulations and specific law restrictions. In this regard, international legal provisions of freedom of speech are important in guiding intra-state laws. However, the privacy laws in the United Arab Emirates lack explicit articulation of freedom of speech. They are characterized by strict restrictions that limit the scope of individuals’ and press’ expression of opinion and data exposure. In this reflective paper, the role of privacy laws on the functioning of media and private individuals will be explored and reviewed to identify that the lack of a straightforward privacy law might have a deteriorating effect on the freedom of speech in the state.
In the United Arab Emirates, there is no explicit protection of privacy addressed in the Constitution. Indeed, the issue of privacy as the right of the country’s citizens is not explicitly protected by the Constitution (“Privacy law,” n. d.). About the freedom of speech regulations, the Constitution of the United Arab Emirates does not contain any articulations concerning the freedom of speech for the media. According to Duffy (2018), instead of the formulation of the freedom of speech, the Constitution holds the notion of freedom of expression, addressed in Article 30 and Article 31. In particular, these articles do not explicitly state that press, and other media will be protected by law in terms of privacy. Instead, it is claimed that “freedom of opinion and expressing it verbally, in writing, or by other means of expression shall be guaranteed within the limits of the law” (Duffy, 2018, p. 27). Thus, since the Constitution imposes a limitation on the freedom of expression referring to the law, the power of law extends beyond Constitutional provisions.
When analyzing the impact of privacy laws on the press, one should examine the intersection of the Constitution’s Article 30 and Article 31 in relation to international law. In particular, as stated by Duffy (2018), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) holds that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” (p. 27). However, this right is limited within such areas as “rights of others, reputation management, national security, public order, and public health” (Duffy, 2018, p. 28). However, in the case of the United Arab Emirates, the laws impose significant restrictions beyond these areas to regulate the expression of opinions within the political realm and the criticism of the state’s orders and rules. In such a manner, the conduct of media in the United Arab Emirates is particularly owned and controlled by the state, the failure to follow the provision of laws is subject to penalties, and the media has to be censored to comply with the rules.
Although there is not one exact law that would regulate privacy in the state, the United Arab Emirates’ legislature has several legal documents that relate to privacy and media. In particular, Federal Law #5 of 2012 regulates the use of electronic networks for eavesdropping or any other use of private information about others without their consent is deemed illegal (“Privacy law,” n. d.). Another law that applies to privacy regulations is the Penal Code and its Articles 378-390 in particular, which prioritizes consent in personal information disclosure about others, among other regulations (“Privacy law,” n. d.). As for the media’s conduct, it is overseen by Federal Laws #3, #5, and #15 (“The legal system,” n. d.). Thus, the scattered provisions of different laws enacted throughout four decades regulate privacy issues in media and private domains.
Given the above-mentioned legislative provisions, the conduct of private individuals in relation to the disclosure and use of private information is also significantly controlled. The use of social media as a means of communication and information exchange is subject to strict rules. Individuals who post photographs on their social media pages should be concerned with the provisions of Federal Law #5 of 2012 (“Privacy law,” n. d.). Specifically, this law “makes it an offence to use any IT means to breach someone else’s privacy, including by taking pictures of others, or publishing or displaying those pictures” (“All you need to know about UAE privacy laws,” 2017, para. 2). In addition, there are tools used for the monitoring of hacking and harmful content exposed and exchanged online, including personal information using particular emoticons. Moreover, the use of software that violates one’s privacy is punished with large fines reaching up to Dh300,000 (“All you need to know about UAE privacy laws,” 2017). Thus, the interaction between individuals and the involvement of third parties in communication that violates one’s privacy is strictly regulated by UAE law.
The newly emerging changes in the privacy law in the United Arab Emirates ignited disturbing responses in public due to their potential deterioration of the rights of freedom of speech and expression of opinion. In particular, the Law on Combatting Rumours and Cybercrime introduces lengthy imprisonment and severe punishment for the expression of opinion and freedom of speech (“UAE: New cybercrime law threatens right to free expression,” 2022). The most disturbing element of the new law is the vague formulations that articulate the cybercrimes against the state, which are not specifically mentioned. For example, “content “that intends to harm the State’s national security or sovereignty or any of its interests […] or decrease public confidence in […] State authorities or institutions” is considered unlawful (“UAE: New cybercrime law threatens right to free expression,” 2022, para. 6). Thus, the lack of precision in the articulation of terminology might lead to a violation of freedom of speech and privacy.
In summation, the results of the reflection on the UAE privacy laws have demonstrated that the state’s legislature lacks explicit articulation of the protection of privacy in both media and private individuals’ conduct. Moreover, while Constitution addresses the freedom of expression, it limits such a right by the provisions of laws. In their turn, the privacy laws, such as Federal Law #5 of 2012, the Penal Code of 1987, the Press and Publications Act of 1980, and the recent Law on Combatting Rumours and Cybercrime, significantly restrict the freedoms of the citizens and media. In such a manner, the interests of the state are often prioritized over the freedom of speech and privacy of individuals, imposing censorship in media and communication.
All you need to know about UAE privacy laws. (2017). Web.
Duffy, M. J. (2018). Media law in the United Arab Emirates (2nd ed.). Walters Kluwer.
The legal system. (n. d.). [PowerPoint slides].
Privacy law. (n. d.). [PowerPoint slides].
UAE: New cybercrime law threatens right to free expression. (2022). Web.