UAE urged to lift the ban on internet calls amid coronavirus pandemic
A coalition of rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, has urged the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to unblock voice and video calls over apps including WhatsApp and Skype so that migrants can communicate with their families back home.
“In light of the COVID-19 global pandemic outbreak, we, the undersigned organizations, urge the governments of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, and Oman to permanently lift the ban on all Voice Over IP (VoIP) platforms used for voice and video internet calls,” the statement said.
The UAE has long banned free internet calling apps under the pretext of protecting the commercial interests of its state-owned telecommunication companies. “Such a sweeping ban cannot be justified, given the impact it has. This has caused serious problems for the people living in those countries, especially the majority of migrant workers and foreign national residents who need to connect and communicate with their families and communities overseas. Even citizens at home connect to members of their families abroad via VoIP,” the letter continued.
Denying migrant workers and other vulnerable groups access to such communication apps puts them at particular risk, as this cuts them off from their relatives and from the resources they need in times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Please just listen to us. Unblock Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, even if it’s just temporary. 80% of the country is away from their homes,” urged Twitter user @danielmarcevans.
Despite its ambition to become a major technological hub, the UAE has harsh cybercrime laws and maintains what civil society groups say is a highly sophisticated surveillance state.
Last year, the New York Times revealed that Emirati intelligence services were using a popular new app called ToTok to spy on users and track conversations.