Internet Censorship in UAE

The Internet is one of the best information and communication technologies and a host of many other personal and professional uses; information searching, emails, chatting, teleconferencing, entertainment, telecommuting etc. While it is probably relatively easy to access internet services in your country, it may come as a shock to you when you travel to some countries such United Arab Emirates (UAE) to find that internet access is restricted, censored or completely blocked.

Burj Al Arab

Other countries where internet services are restricted, censored or blocked include China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia among others. In all these countries there is a control or suppression of what can be accessed, published, or viewed on the internet. In most cases, internet censorship is initiated by government authorities or private organizations based on internet filters as to what is and what isn’t appropriate internet content.

What Content Is Censored In UAE

While countries like China may choose to completely block internet services at times, the authorities in UAE are specifically concerned with selected areas of the Internet. Internet censorship is  applied on content that is critical of the government, pornography and nudity, internet tools for bypassing internet filters, content associated with crime, chatting services, social sites, hate content (especially religious), unlicensed VoIP services, hacking, spyware, gambling, content on illegal drugs, dating sites, terrorism,  gay and lesbian sites among others.

Most internet users in UAE generally accept censorship of content such as pornography, nudity, terrorism, illegal drugs and other related content on the grounds that it does not appear to be politically motivated. But users take it as a violation of their own rights when the government censors the Internet and denies them freedom of speech on government policies. The UAE government insists that it only applies internet filters on internet content that is inconsistent with religious, political, cultural and moral values of the Gulf nation.

Effect Of Internet Censorship In UAE

It is very difficult to understand how internet service providers in UAE such as Etisilat and Du determine the appropriate internet content or what is in violation. While the government of UAE might get away with the implementation of internet censorship, trade relations and the economy of this world’s fast rising nation may be affected adversely. Without open internet services, it is extremely difficult for foreign international traders and ex-pats to conduct business freely in UAE.

Many internet users and especially international business traders depend on internet services such as Skype for chat and video-conferencing for business communication. Skype services are blocked in UAE and so is VoIP, which mean no video-conferencing and such related services. These services are blocked deliberately by the UAE government to protect loss of business amongst national telecoms. While internet users in UAE are still hopeful that the government will ease it’s stance on internet censorship, users will still have to put up with over-restricted or inaccessible internet content for now. Strangely, in an effort by the UAE government to encourage current affairs awareness, news sites, including seemingly critical ones are not censored unless they exhibit open criticism of the government.

How To Bypass Internet Censorship In UAE

While most of the blocked internet sites in UAE may not bother average internet users, some internet services such as Skype and video-conferencing can be a disadvantage to many users. Internet censorship in UAE is clearly visible and users will often know when a site is blocked since it will come up clearly as ‘government censored’ unlike other countries such as China where searches on blocked sites may return no data. If you would like to bypass internet filters in UAE and access blocked websites, the best option is to use a VPN service. With a VPN, you’ll be able to access blocked services such as Skype, VoIP, online streaming TV and movie services such as Netflix, social sites among others. Residents only need to locate the best UAE VPN and then take out a subscription for a few dollars a month to bypass the censorship and access all blocked sites.

If you want to make a stand against censorship you can add your voice to Google’s campaign for a free and open internet here