Last week the Dubai Chief of Police called for legal action to be taken against Twitter users who criticize the UAE. It would seem that the Dubai Police are keeping a close eye on Twitter, as well as Facebook, to catch out ‘culprits’.
Emirates 24/7 reports that the Dubai Police is keeping a 24 hour watch on both social networking sites, according to statements made Major Salem Obaid Salmeen, Deputy Director of Anti-Electronic Crimes of Dubai Police’s Criminal Investigations Department.
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“These electronic patrols are detecting and tracking all topics and materials written and presented on these websites,” he said during an interview on a local radio station, adding that the monitoring was not a violation of public freedom, since the content is in a public space for all to see.
The Dubai Police are certainly not the first authority who have made it known that they are keeping a watchful eye on what is being said on social media sites.The FBI has publicly stated that it now relies on Twitter and Facebook for intel, and a list of words that the Department of Homeland Security considers “items of interest” was made public.
For the most part, the US equivalent of what the FBI and Homeland Security have been doing is harmless, at least on the surface. We don’t expect any one to be arrested for criticizing the government or for defamation, if the FBI catches wind of the tweet.
In the case of Leigh Van Bryan, however, while it may not have led to his arrest, he was detained upon arrival to the US, and eventually deported, thanks to a tweet in which he joked about how he was going to “destroy America”.
Unfortunately for Van Bryan, he may as well have joked about having a bomb while standing in line at airport security. British slang was taken literally and he was bundled back onto a plane to the UK, for a tweet that was seen thanks to the Big Brother attitude towards Twitter.
In the case of UAE citizens however, the risk if far greater. Salmeen stated that any violations of the law on the website would be “punishable as in the real world.”
Spreading rumours, defamation and even Facebook tagging without permission are all offenses which can get you in a fair share of trouble with the Dubai police, and following several instances, they’ve decided to make sure that they catch each and every offender in the act.
Salmeen explained,”Dubai’s police is equipped with the latest technologies in the field and has a qualified team specialising in anti-electronic crimes,” adding, “Such technologies allow Dubai police to find the source of the abuse which will be kept in the server for 18 months.”
Several UAE citizens have already been arrested for statements made on Twitter. Saleh al-Dhufairi was arrested for tweets in which he criticized the country’s security forces, and was consequently released on bail. A 42-year-old Emirati was arrested in February on charges of defamation, for tweets that were critical of Dubai’s own Chief of Police.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also said to have launched a campaign for the benefit of tourists visiting the country, ensuring that while they are there, they understand the laws that govern Internet use in the UAE.
At this point, if on holiday in the UAE, it’s probably safer to just take a holiday from tweeting as well, and take in the sights, instead of spend your time staring at a screen.