New study: UAE ISPs violate users' privacy

London - Indifferent to basic human rights and with no state oversight, the main internet service providers (ISPs) in the United Arab Emirates violate the privacy of their users' personal information, reveals a new study conducted by ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies.

The study examined eight ISPs in the UAE: Etisalat, Thuraya, DU, Skystream, Nedaa, Yahsat, SWYP and Virgin Mobile. ImpACT concluded that none of the ISPs fully respect and comply with human rights principles in their privacy policies, thus leaving their customers’ privacy vulnerable to misuse and abuse.

The study, which is part of a series titled "Privacy Violated," gathered information from ISPs’ websites and via a customer survey. It revealed that the majority of ISPs violate users' privacy, with customers unaware of the extent to which their personal information is vulnerable.

Among the conclusions: Only two of the eight ISPs assessed care about users' awareness of the companies’ privacy policies, while the remainder either do not have such a policy at all or do not include it on their websites in a clear and accessible way.

In addition, only half of the targeted ISPs (four of the eight) explain the nature of the information they collect from users, suggesting that private information could be collected without informing them in advance.

Furthermore, only half of the targeted ISPs explain to customers their responsibility to protect this data. None explain customers' rights to compensation if personal information is misused or leaked.

Ultimately, the study concluded, these violations result primarily from the state's lack of control over ISPs’ privacy policies and the extent to which they collect, use, share and retain users' personal information. Yet at the same time, the UAE has passed robust laws and enacted policies that regulate access to and the operation of sites the state considers dangerous to its security and reputation. Authorities can force ISPs to disclose users' personal information if it is in the "state’s interest," thus infringing upon the privacy of activists and political opponents.

The London-based think tank called for amendment of the laws and policies of the UAE to prevent authorities from forcing ISPs to share users' information with any third parties for purposes other than improving the quality of service. In addition, ImpACT calls on ISPs to modify their privacy policies to address their shortcomings.

 


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