DUBAI // Internet users who "name and shame" online with photos of bad drivers and complaints about customer service have been told they are breaking the law and risk imprisonment.
A new Twitter feed and a website invite members of the public to share details of reckless driving and bad service. The resident who launched them says they were a genuine attempt to improve standards, but has since conceded that such postings are illegal.
Dubai police warned against using "name-and-shame" websites, and have their own alternative.
"These websites are not regulated and could cause more harm than good," said Lt Col Saif Al Mazrouei, acting director of the Dubai Police general traffic department.
"We have our own violation system where we collect pictures and calls and process violations against drivers that way."
Dr Ali Al Jarman, a lawyer and legal adviser, said: "Under the law, you can't name and shame people. It's a crime. No individual has the right to take a picture of people and publish it without permission, only the Government has this right."
Article 372 of the Penal Code, Federal Law No 3 of 1987, reads: "Whoever attributes to another person by any means of publicity, an incident which makes him liable to punishment or contempt, shall be punished by detention for a period not exceeding two years or by a fine not exceeding Dh20,000."
Those accused of libel can be found guilty even if the information they publish is accurate. The law covers all forms of publication, including the internet.
Dr Al Jarman, a managing partner at Prestige Advocates in Dubai, said someone publishing details online of a dispute over poor service could also fall foul of the law.
"They don't have a right to describe such incidents," he said. "They're harming the reputation of, say, a bank. Anything that will harm their name is against the law."
Dubai Police have their own, legal Twitter account for motorists to file complaints against bad drivers and to post photos of reckless driving. The department also launched two telephone numbers to deal with traffic complaints under a campaign called "We are all police" in 2004.
"Based on the pictures we get, we study the violations and contact the violator," said Lt Ahmed Al Amiri, head of the campaign. Last month police received more than 600 calls and pictures related to traffic violations.
Lt Al Amiri said such programmes helped police to determine which kinds of offences took place in which areas, and to tackle bad driving more effectively.
The Dubai Chief Traffic Prosecutor, Salah Bu Faroosha, also said that motorists should file complaints about other drivers with police.
"According to the ministerial decree issued in 2007, any traffic violation concern is handled by the traffic police departments in the relevant emirates, they are referred to us only if an objection is raised," he said.
The description of @DubaiNameShame on Twitter says it is "designed to allow you all to Name & Shame the idiots in Dubai - Bad Drivers/Parking - Bad Customer Service - Rude People - Decency etc." The dubainameshame.com website carries the slogan: "Naming - Shaming - Praising. Working with you to make Dubai & the UAE a safer, better place for us all."
The Twitter account was launched three months ago and has attracted more than 600 followers and more than 4,700 tweets. The website went live last month.
Followers of the Twitter account are encouraged to submit photos of cars being driven recklessly or badly parked, and give details of disputes with shops, banks and other businesses. The photos are displayed on a linked page.
The man behind the account initially said: "I wanted to give people a social media-based forum that allowed them to name these companies and these drivers so other people would comment, understand and be aware.
"The aim is that people change their attitudes - drivers may see their registration or picture and get shamed into driving better; companies may see first-hand what customers think and make improvements."
However, last week, responding to a user who asked about the legality of publishing a picture of a car, the website owner tweeted that such complaints are illegal, and should be filed with police.
To contact Dubai Police with complaints about bad driving, call 8004353 or 800700. Pictures of bad driving can be uploaded to the Dubai Police Twitter account @DubaipoliceHQ. They can also be e-mailed to email@example.com.