UAE in crackdown on social media abuse

Telcoms regulator has started monitoring social media for offences like nudity, sexual cyber extortion and insulting members of the royal families
UAE in crackdown on social media abuse
By Staff writer
Tue 10 Mar 2015 10:25 AM

The UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) have started monitoring social media networks for inappropriate and abusive behaviour as part of a crackdown on social media bullying, it was announced at a press conference on Monday.

The TRA has established an alert system that will detect when certain keywords are being used, after which officials will investigate whether any illegal act has been committed, such as nudity, sexual cyber extortion and insulting members of the ruling families.

“We have started monitoring all the social media channels – all websites and profiles are monitored,” said Ghaith Al Mazaina, acting manager at the security quality service at the TRA told 7Days newspaper.

“This system will pinpoint bad behaviour, such as someone publishing nudity on the Internet.”

If an offence has been committed, the TRA’s security quality service section will pass it on to Internet Advancement, another department at the authority.

“We try to get the page or profile down or remove the violation as soon as possible and report the case to police if it is a criminal case,” said Abdul Rahman Al Mazrouqi, manager for Internet Advancement at the TRA.

Monitoring of social media channels, like Twitter and Facebook began in the last week of February.

The TRA press conference was held in collaboration with the 'Al Ameen Service' service launched by Dubai Police, which is aimed at promoting awareness of cyber blackmail, an increasing problem in the region, ITP.net reported.

According to Dubai Police's Saeed Alhajri, in 2014, 212 cases of extortion and blackmail via social media had been reported compared to 80 in 2013. He noted that this is just the number that the police know of and he believes there are many more cases that go unreported.

Alhajri said: "Criminals use different social media or matching applications to identify their victims. Then they get them to behave inappropriately on the screen and either ask them to send photos or record videos. Once the criminal has the sexual material they blackmail their victim."

When asked if victims are scared to come forward and if there was a punishment for victims, Alhajri said that each case was different and treated individually.

The campaign is aimed at educating users in the UAE on the risks and consequences caused by careless Internet use and raising awareness on being cautious while sharing data on the web.

Alhajri also said that before 2015, in most of the cases the victims were women, however criminals have developed their techniques and methods and "they know how to trap people" so the numbers of men and women victims are equal.

Victims of cyber blackmail range from young teens to people in their forties and fifties and criminals are often outside of the UAE meaning that police are working closely with other authorities. Anyone found guilty of extortion inside the UAE could face a prison sentence of up to ten years.

When asked if criminals can still be caught if they are using a VPN, Alhajri pointed out that this in itself was a criminal offence: "Manipulating the network is a crime by itself under UAE law. We have a special article just for this. We don't look at the case from just one angle, we are waiting for the criminal to fail on just one fault."

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