Last year, legal experts in the UAE warned that cyber crimes in the Emirates were increasing at such a pace that new laws were needed to catch offenders. The worry, judges warned then, was that weak legal frameworks were so full of loopholes that criminals could easy exploit them.
Some of these loopholes were plugged yesterday. As The National reported, a decree issued by the president, Sheikh Khalifa, spells out in detail the types of offences - from data theft to digital extortion - that will bring the full weight of UAE law. Experts say it is the most detailed and comprehensive cybercrime law on the books in the Middle East.
A comprehensive cyber crime law is an important step to protect privacy and financial transactions. Without it, the internet is little more than a Wild West of digital transactions. The new law was necessary because it provides clear definitions of online crimes and their punishments in a region that suffers the most complex cyber attacks in the world. Even though the UAE ranks first in the Middle East in cyber security infrastructure, its systems are fast growing and evolving. Laws must be as well.
In 2011, Dubai police reported that the number of cyber crimes had increased from 36 a month in 2009, to 43 in 2011. We assume there were many other cases that went unreported.
A good definition of "cyber crime" is something of a moving target. Under the new law, crimes that will come to the fore include theft of personal information, including credit card and bank account details. Online gambling, promoting pornographic materials and engaging in online human or drug trafficking or dealing with human organs will also be covered.
The law will also seek to penalise defamation, and set a minimum three-year jail sentence for those convicted of using the internet to "deride or damage" the reputation of the country and its rulers, or promote or organise demonstrations without permission from authorities. But specifics on what types of speech or actions would be considered damaging are not spelled out. Clarity here would be welcome.
It will ultimately take careful police and international cooperation to reduce rates of cyber crime in the UAE. But once offenders are in custody, this new law will make prosecuting them much easier.