Looking at future travel plans post-Covid? VPN provider NordVPN has been rolling out blogs looking at internet use and restrictions that can affect travellers in different destinations, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt.
In the 2021 VPN travel guide to Egypt, NordVPN’s Paul Black warns that certain online offences in Egypt can result in jail time.
“Internet freedom was significantly reduced in Egypt after the 2011 protests, which also led to a major internet shutdown,” Black notes.
“Censorship existed before 2011 too. The government arrested and imprisoned bloggers for their opinions, banned websites, and heavily monitored internet users through state-influenced internet service providers (ISPs).”
Services and sites typically restricted or even banned in Egypt include LGBTQ+-related content or any content seen to be criticising the government.
“In 2011, the government blocked Twitter and Facebook — and eventually the whole internet — for several days. Then in 2019, following new protests, Egyptian authorities disrupted services like WhatsApp and Signal. They also disconnected internet and phone networks in the Sinai peninsula during military operations,” notes Black.
“Avoid using unsafe free VPN services as they may have security flaws, and won’t offer reliable protection,” he says, adding that people should avoid posting personal and private data online via apps and services, especially when using public Wi-Fi.
“However, in Egypt you can face a large fine or even a jail sentence if you’re caught accessing blocked content. Avoid illegal activity at all times.”
Prohibitions in the UAE
“To curb cybercrime and terrorism, the UAE has cracked down on internet content and freedom of expression online. Citizens, online activists, and journalists have all been prosecuted for criticising the state on the internet,” Bahar writes.
In the UAE, prohibitions include unmarried sex, political parties, and gambling, with alcohol sale and use heavily restricted. Online content about these subjects is therefore also subject to restriction and censorship — as is material deemed to be insecure, offensive, criminal or terrorist in nature.
Using a VPN to hide your IP address to get access to websites, calling applications, and gaming applications blocked by the UAE government is illegal.
The UAE’s Article 9 of the Federal Decree-Law No. 5/2012 on Combating Cyber Crimes states that whoever uses a fraudulent computer network protocol address by using a false address or a third-party address by any other means for the purpose of committing a crime or preventing its discovery shall be punished.
“Before traveling to the UAE, choose an app that isn’t blocked in the UAE and make sure they have the same one installed,” Bahar writes.
“According to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) of the UAE, 1,600 websites were banned in the UAE in 2019, 542 of which were blocked for obscene content. And a quarter of those were blocked for fraud,” Bahar says. “ISPs are free to share your data with the government.”