UAE tightens ban on VPNs with jail time, fines of up to A$725,000

UAE tightens ban on VPNs with jail time, fines of up to A$725,000

Travellers caught using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the broader United Arab Emirates could face fines of up to A$725,000 or even jail time under hardened laws introduced this month.

Popular with business travellers, VPNs allow secure remote access to corporate networks back home, but can also be used by anybody to side-step local internet filtering laws and to access sites and content which would otherwise be blocked.

With the UAE barring a raft of online services including the voice and video calling features of Skype, Viber, FaceTime and Snapchat, VPNs were traditionally a great way to communicate with loved ones back home without being stung by global roaming fees or needing to buy a local UAE SIM card.

Once configured, connecting to a VPN proves as simple as flicking a switch on many devices, after which you’re free to use the Internet as though you in another country:

While the maximum fine stands at A$725,000 (AED2,000,000), even the minimum punishment of A$181,000 (AED500,000) if caught breaking the local laws will prove unaffordable to most – so you’ll want to rethink hitting that VPN switch while in the UAE.

We can’t imagine every single VPN session resulting in such hefty penalties, but realise that you’re more likely to be caught on certain networks than others.

Those include hotel wireless networks where you can only surf by providing your name and room number to log in, along with mobile data services where traffic is easily linked to your local or roaming SIM card.

Qantas, Virgin Australia, Emirates and Etihad Airways use the UAE as a springboard between Australia and Europe, with Sydney-Dubai representing Qantas’ flagship QF1 service and continuing through to London Heathrow.

Also read: Hands On: Norton WiFi Privacy VPN app

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

61 comments

  • jianga

    jianga

    28 Jul, 2016 01:21 pm

    Another reason why Asian hubs like SIN/HKG always wins over the UAE.

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  • moa999

    moa999

    28 Jul, 2016 01:29 pm

    Wow.. Particularly when you can only connect to some corporate email systems using VPN

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  • TheRealBabushka

    TheRealBabushka

    28 Jul, 2016 02:38 pm

    So how exactly is the UAE govt going to promulgate this edict?

    Some poor unexpecting visitor is going to be at the receiving end of this without even knowing it!

    Disgraceful.

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  • Christopher Campbell

    Chris2304

    28 Jul, 2016 01:30 pm

    I've used FaceTime using wifi in the EK F lounge in Dubai?

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  • Dean

    deanr

    28 Jul, 2016 01:37 pm

    How recently was that? I tried a few months ago and it would ring but when you try to pick up it wouldn't connect. Same in the Etihad lounges too in Abu Dhabi.

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  • Christopher Campbell

    Chris2304

    28 Jul, 2016 01:38 pm

    Early July and Mid June

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  • Christopher Campbell

    Chris2304

    28 Jul, 2016 01:38 pm

    This year

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  • Christopher Campbell

    Chris2304

    28 Jul, 2016 01:52 pm

    and without a VPN

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  • Dean

    deanr

    28 Jul, 2016 01:35 pm

    In other words, the UAE government moves to protect its billion dollar state-owned telcos by blocking overseas VoIPs so that you have to pay for phone calls rather than calling people for free, and threatens people smart enough to get around that with jail time and insane fines.

    Please, nobody tell Pauline Hanson...

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  • sgb

    sgb

    28 Jul, 2016 01:46 pm

    Please Explain...

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  • traveller99

    traveller99

    28 Jul, 2016 04:37 pm

    If only it had to do with keeping revenue.  Unfortunately this is 100% about censorship, and the control of information.  VPNs enable residents to access information that the local authorities/government may not want them to see.  In the UAE if you were to access a cartoon of Mohammed or read a blog about atheism you could LITERALLY be executed or thrown in prison for life.  

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  • PunditShafton

    PunditShafton

    28 Jul, 2016 09:22 pm

    "nobody tell Pauline Hanson..."

    oops I already did

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  • DBPZ

    DBPZ

    28 Jul, 2016 01:54 pm

    VPN is a technical term; how to define the VPN? Is Proxy-over-HTTPS VPN? Is SOCKS-over-SSH VPN? Is Asking-friend-to-foward-Emails VPN? As long as you allow information flowing trough the border, it is impossible to define this term.

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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    28 Jul, 2016 02:08 pm

    The scope of this law extends to "Whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address (IP address) by using a false address or a third-party address by any other means"

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  • Chris_PER

    Chris_PER

    28 Jul, 2016 02:14 pm

    A country that claims to be 1st world, yet doesn't allow the democratic basics.

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  • undertheradar

    undertheradar
    Banned

    28 Jul, 2016 04:49 pm

    i dont see how/why '1st world'democratic' references are of any relevance. Apparently AUST is '1st world/democratic', BUT look at all the NON FIRST WORLD/UNDEMOCRATIC ISSUES in OZ.. The 'labels' of yesteryear have become so blurred, that those labels are of little relevance, but it's human nature to place 'labels' on everything as it gives the 'hordes' a sense of security Just my opinion of course :). 

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  • Chris_PER

    Chris_PER

    28 Jul, 2016 05:10 pm

    Yes, but you dont get jailed for activating a VPN.

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  • Serg

    Serg

    28 Jul, 2016 05:40 pm

    Sorry, undertheradar, I completely missed point of your rant. I personally do not feel discriminated anyhow in Australia, but indeed I do believe that in Dubai there is no freedom and no human rights whatsoever. They may not catch you, but this is not the point – you cannot eat pork, you cannot kiss your wife, you cannot slap her at her butt, she cannot dress “inappropriate”, you cannot say that all religious fetishes (including Mohamed) are rubbish and so on. Now you cannot use VPN. And frankly they do here in Australia whatever they please. Some call it democracy, but I just cannot get why it work like one-way valve.

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  • Ryan Stephen

    RaptorNation158

    28 Jul, 2016 11:30 pm

    Why didn't you add how they cheat the people who built their country?

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  • tangatalaga

    tangatalaga

    30 Jul, 2016 03:50 pm

    In the UAE you can eat pork at a number of hotels. If you go into Waitrose supermarket in Dubai or Abu Dhabi you will find a doorway marked non-Muslims only, it is packed with pork, chops, pies, sausage rolls etc 

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  • Serg

    Serg

    30 Jul, 2016 03:58 pm

    Yea, I see – special room as for people with leprosy. In our supermarket it just market “Halal” and selling where all other product selling.

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  • tangatalaga

    tangatalaga

    30 Jul, 2016 06:15 pm

    Clearly you have never been there Serg otherwise you wouldn't make such uninformed comments. You still have to put the pork items in your basket or trolley and take them to the cashier who most likely will be an Emirati. You are free to go and sit somewhere and munch on your pork pie. There is no feeling of someone with leprosy. At the end of the day it is thier country and they allow pork to be sold in supermarkets and in hotels, that is tolerance but the VPN thing is strange as other Gulf countries don't have the ban

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  • TheRealBabushka

    TheRealBabushka

    28 Jul, 2016 02:35 pm

    I'm sooo glad I'm not flying on Qantas to London these days. So glad!

     

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  • Serg

    Serg

    28 Jul, 2016 05:42 pm

    I never flown via Dubai and for sure never will. Thus I do not use Qantas on my biannually voyage to Europe and looks like I never will.

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  • undertheradar

    undertheradar
    Banned

    28 Jul, 2016 03:02 pm

    No different to travellers needing to abide by the VARIOUS laws of ANY country they travel to. Its just one of the 'quirks' that highlights how 'diverse' the human race. Do the research before you travel. Ignorance is no excuse.  Whether you agree or not is irrelevant.  

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  • sgb

    sgb

    28 Jul, 2016 04:09 pm

    Exactly, it's a bit like using the internet by 'Application' on China Southern...and getting a very limited service.

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  • Serg

    Serg

    28 Jul, 2016 06:45 pm

    I knew without any deep research that it is very little for me to do in Dubai. Chris only confirmed that I was 100% correct.

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  • jorgb

    jorgb

    28 Jul, 2016 03:08 pm

    Didn't realise, all my friends that work there use them. Musn't be that heavily enforced, I'll continue using mine when there.

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  • Chris_PER

    Chris_PER

    28 Jul, 2016 05:12 pm

    Please let us know if the jail has wifi ;)

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  • Ieuan1

    ieuan1

    29 Jul, 2016 03:03 pm

    Only a cell phone :)

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  • travs

    travs

    28 Jul, 2016 03:16 pm

    Does this affect the airline lounges in the UAE? I'll need to make calls on Skype or Google Hangouts while there. This seems VERY inconvenient.

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  • F8

    F8

    28 Jul, 2016 04:20 pm

    I suspect that this law may not aimed at private use individuls. I remember some years ago reading reports of people in Dubai being hit with hefty fines for selling IP phone calls to Asian workers at a big discount to the monopoly state carrier's rates.

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  • Wayne

    wherring

    28 Jul, 2016 05:25 pm

    Another reason to fly via Asia...

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  • Serg

    Serg

    28 Jul, 2016 05:29 pm

    Yet another VERY GOOD reason not to fly to Europe with Qantas or any Gulf Carriers for this merit. IMHO it is plain breaking of human rights. “so you’ll want to rethink hitting that VPN switch while in the UAE” – nope, now I must have incredibly good reason to fly to Dubai and I do not have one and very unlikely that I will in foreseen future.

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  • markpk

    markpk

    28 Jul, 2016 06:21 pm

    We get it Serg, you hate Qantas...you've posted that fact like 30+ time recently...

    So today you comment that you've never been to Dubai or possibly the Middle East...yet you are now indignitantly going to town on Qantas and (possibly) the ME3. 

    Yet, what you have not addressed (so feel free to do so) is why you choose to fly to Europe via:

    • Malaysia - clearly a bastion of democracy - lets not even start on MH370...
    • Singapore - right behind Malaysia - should we talk about employee rights?
    • Hong Kong - the region China tolerates (only) because it makes serious money
    • China - see my point re Malaysia...or FOS, or FOR...
    Other than Singapore, most if not all other hops to Europe have similar issues of varying magnitude...
     
    But you continue to pound (primarily) on Qantas..? 
     
     
     
    PS...
    (I know I know Chris/David...I've probably breached the posting rules...)
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  • Serg

    Serg

    28 Jul, 2016 07:13 pm

    Markpk, I love to love Qantas and I am for having national airline (they call it “Flag Carrier”) that I can be proud of. And I use to love Qantas and use to prefer them over any other carrier. But unfortunately after privatization, then deregulation and then master-slave relationship with Emirates I have to look very hard to find even slightest reason to pick Qantas over Finnair, BA, SQ or CX. Not only I cannot fly to Europe via Singapore with Qantas, they also putting Asia at lowest importance. I do not hate Qantas, but I just miss those old good days when I loved them because as Australian I was proud that our Flag Carrier is the best (or at very least one of the best) airline.

    I never flown via ME because I love to fly via Asia – SIN, BKK or HKG all good, but recently I fly mostly via BKK. I do not like to fly via Dubai (or ME as whole) because their attitude of superiority that I fail to see anywhere in Asia. As an example they came to Australia and expect that we must tolerate their ugly dressing, yet they ban “inappropriate” dressing for our women on their soul. In Australia they expect that Halal meat available everywhere, mosques everywhere and each airport has Muslim pray room. Yet I am not aware that there are any Orthodox church in Dubai or Christian pray room in Dubai airport. And Qantas dancing to their pipe banning pork on all Dubai-bound flights.

    So, please explain me why I have to adore Qantas nowadays? Especially considering that they even not cheapest or roomiest? Give me good five reasons and I will change my attitude.

    As to HKG/BKK/SIN – they do have their own customs and I love it. I love to explore their customs because they do not behave like their only customs are superior and respect my customs, so why I should not respect their?

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  • Serg

    Serg

    28 Jul, 2016 07:14 pm

    BTW I am not alone in my dislike of Qantas-Emirates “partnership” – read this very thread.

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  • TheRealBabushka

    TheRealBabushka

    28 Jul, 2016 11:14 pm

    Yeah, he's not the only one.

    I don't like, never did....sorry been listening to Pauline Pantsdown.

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  • ny152

    ny152

    28 Jul, 2016 06:30 pm

    Yet another reason why Australia's flag carrier should not be aligned with the flag carrier of a country like this. I hate being forced to fly via Dubai on my way to Australia from Europe.  I hope the partnership is not renewed when it comes to an end.

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  • Looking

    Looking

    28 Jul, 2016 10:13 pm

    I think Alan Joyce is frequently listed as a top 5 LGBT corporate businessman yet his airline is in bed with the airline of country where being gay is illegal. The tragic comedy of that, and given the punishments it truly is tragic.

    Context VPNs are required to allow for using various social media apps in the UAE.

    No Dubai for me!

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  • Ryan Stephen

    RaptorNation158

    28 Jul, 2016 11:01 pm

    It's up to the Qantas Board of Directors to decide who they are in bed with, if there's monetary gain then AJ is practically forced to take it despite his personal disagreements.

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  • TheRealBabushka

    TheRealBabushka

    28 Jul, 2016 11:16 pm

    The relationship between boards and management is a little bit more dynamic than you describe...

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  • mviy

    mviy

    28 Jul, 2016 11:26 pm

    Generally if you fly between AU and LHR on QANTAS you'd only be stopping in Dubai for an hour or two. I think it should be possible to live without a VPN for that amount of time.

    Anyway I recall using one of the supposedly blocked services recently without a VPN whilst at DXB airport.

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  • Serg

    Serg

    29 Jul, 2016 08:30 am

    However if you fly via Asia you can use VPN even if your aircraft just refueling like BA SYD-SIN-LHR one. Or in fact you do not even need any VPN because you can use free WiFi to make Skype call and frankly this is only what I need.

    Yes, I can survive stopover in Dubai even without VPN and absent of pork on the plane’s menu, but I need to have incredibly good incentive to do so because there are way too many other choices around – cheaper, quicker and transiting via more friendly airports.

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  • David Flynn

    David

    29 Jul, 2016 08:57 am

    Everybody: let's keep this discussion on topic, which means VPNs in the UAE and issues directly related to this. That doesn't include criticising Qantas or the Qantas/Emirates partnership. Further off-topic posts will be removed and users who insist on posting same may also need to take a break...

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  • TheRealBabushka

    TheRealBabushka

    29 Jul, 2016 05:01 pm

    With respect David, the connection with Qantas is very real and cannot be isolated.

    If you voluntarily visit Dubai or choose to fly Emirates, then you should be acquainted with the laws and customs of the UAE and be prepared to comply.

    It is the people who fly Qantas and inadvertently get caught up in this because Qantas has chosen to align itself with Emirates in an intimate codeshare arrangement. It is not without merit for people who value Qantas to be upset with the continued EK/QF arrangement and to question the merits of QF managements decisions.

    It pains people to choose not to fly Qantas because ultimately it is a brand that we love. But this doesn't mean we go everywhere and anywhere with Qantas. This relationship is a two way street.

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  • Serg

    Serg

    30 Jul, 2016 12:15 am

    TRB, I could not say it better by myself. You hit the nail on the head – people who voluntary choose Gulfs carriers mutually agreed to live with all those predicament, but people who like fly with QF enforced to bear with all those restrictions and it not for everyone teste.

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  • Dean

    deanr

    29 Jul, 2016 09:10 am

    Come to think of it, I wonder if this law also applies on aircraft registered in the UAE, like when you're on the Wi-Fi on Emirates or Etihad. Does anybody know if the usual UAE blocklists are also enforced on those airlines in the sky? Might give some hint.

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  • David

    icanfly

    29 Jul, 2016 03:07 pm

    Oh well there goes some of your tourism dollars then..

     

    At least they dont block facebook and youtube do they? And yes be interested to see how they inform users.. How many unsuspecting business travellers will get done when they are asked to keep tabs with the office while having their stopover during their business trip .Absurd

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  • crosscourt

    crosscourt

    29 Jul, 2016 03:08 pm

    This whole concept is baffling by the UAE. Can you provide any more details on how this could be policed or how they would know you are on a VPN? Picture this... sitting in the EK first lounge and you are on-line and going through a VPN, suddenly you look up and there is airport security surrounding you. Yes an extreme analogy but I would just like to get a clearer picture of how this is going to be handled.

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  • flyOFTEN

    flyOFTEN

    29 Jul, 2016 03:17 pm

    yet another good reason NOT to go to these Arab countries.

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  • bloatedstoat

    bloatedstoat

    29 Jul, 2016 03:24 pm

    On the road I use a VPN as a pre-requisite to gain unfettered access through our company firewall to administer systems, without it I have no access at all.

    I've had issues in the past gaining access to websites and servers whilst in Dubai; our company eventually made the decision to send us from Australia to Europe by way of Asia instead and we've never looked back.

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  • Leigh Hincks

    leighsydnychina

    29 Jul, 2016 03:26 pm

    Never could understand the idea of going to UAE or Qatar.  It is on the way to nowhere and a waste of time.  Dubai is a dump and like qatar, built on the bodies of slaves.  

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  • bl812

    bl812

    29 Jul, 2016 03:45 pm

    soon we will be forced to wear burkas or hijabs at these airports-already they cannot pour alcohol from the bottles during ramadan as I noticed recently flying etihad business class soon there won't be any of this rotten pleasures of the west either.Meanwhile the royal family of the saudis surely know how to enjoy all earthly pleasures

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  • Paul Cabrelle

    PaulC

    29 Jul, 2016 03:55 pm

    Quite interesting considering my last three interviews with Emirates were mandatory via Skype including the need to have an active connection to them whilst completing an interview task! 

    Maybe a case of one rule for foreigners and one for the govenment monopolies!

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  • 180mis

    180mis

    29 Jul, 2016 10:08 pm

    Firstly, I love reading the comments. They are often more interesting than the article! (sorry David/Chris )

    Yes, AusBT has reported factually on the annoucement of the intention to punish people who violate this rule, however if you ask ex-pats there is a divide between the written rule and the reality. There are some rare instances where westerner's are thrown in jail however by and large the authorities are turning a blind eye.

    I get the feeling this is a bit sensationalist (if that's a real word) 

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  • Jonnie

    Jonnie

    29 Jul, 2016 11:17 pm

    It's mildly hilarious reading the hysterical post here...as in all ME countries, these censorship laws are for the control of local political dissidents and such and not tourists, transit travelers,  or even the local expat populations I dare say. I don't expect to see officers with WiFi sniffers prowling the DXB terminals or local Starbucks branches hunting down VPN scuffows.

    Relax and let down you knickers...a bit over the top the posts here

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  • HolidayBakerMan

    HolidayBakerMan

    30 Jul, 2016 12:00 am

    When I was working for a corporation privacy was always addressed wth a VPN. We would not be able to travel to this country doe to this rule.  

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  • Alexaqua

    Alexaqua

    30 Jul, 2016 12:46 am

    This is just the UAE exercising control over its citizens and visitors to ensure there are no issues with public security. The disgraceful part is that if there was a similar law introduced here in Australia it would be classified as racist by the very people from that part of the world.

     

    It's simple really though, if you don't like that rule don't visit the UAE even as a stopover. 

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  • andrewboj

    andrewboj

    2 Aug, 2016 04:38 pm

    http://gulfnews.com/news/uae/crime/using-vpn-what-uae-residents-need-to-know-1.1872123

    Local UAE reporting on the issue, with input from local experts in the field.  Well worth reading to put it all in context.

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  • robwillett

    robwillett

    3 Aug, 2016 06:27 am

    [Deleted by admin - profanity]

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19 Jul, 2019 01:52 am

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