Jail for Selfies: Privacy Law in the UAE

So, you're on holiday in the UAE, seeing the sights; the beach, Burj Khalifah, your plush hotel cafe...and, naturally, you want to take some selfies. Fill your friends on Facebook and Instagram with envy, right? Unfortunately, even this has become a risky issue in the UAE. You're going to need to take that selfie in a secluded corner of the cafe, or visit Jumeirah Beach at about 5 o'clock in the morning if you want a selfie that includes the sea and sand;because it is a criminal offence in the UAE if your selfie even accidentally contains the image of a stranger in the background.

"You could find yourself taking a mugshot for taking a selfie."

In the UAE, people meandering about in public places still have a right to privacy, and taking their picture (accidentally or deliberately) without their consent is a violation of that right. Now, obviously, this is a law that is going to be breached every day; indeed, thousands, if not millions of times a day. It is impossible to enforce consistently; but random enforcement is not a protection.

All that needs to happen is a complaint. Your phone will be searched, and who knows what the police might find in your photo gallery that violates other UAE laws, in addition to the objectionable picture of someone in the background while you blew kisses from the top of Burj Khalifah? Selfies of you kissing your partner? Selfies of you drinking alcohol in public? You get the idea.

It is conceivable that anyone for any reason could register a complaint against you with the police, claiming that you snapped their picture without permission; they could even deliberately position themselves in your shot precisely to make a complaint against you; and this could lead to a wide array of possible charges.

So, if you want to document your time in the UAE, we suggest you just buy a postcard.

See: The National´s Report: UAE legal Q&As: What are the laws surrounding ‘selfies’?

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