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UAE may lift the prevailing ban on WhatsApp calls

12 November 2019

The digital security head of UAE reported to the news media that authorities are thinking to lift the prevailing ban on whatsapp calls soon. The National Electronic Security Authority's executive director in UAE, Mohamed Al Kuwaiti further confirmed the countries initiative to collaborate with Whatsapp. This is taken up as a security initiative on a national level.

He further said by referring to the telecom regulations as set by the Middle East's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority  or TRA, “The collaboration with WhatsApp has actually increased, and in many of those (projects), we saw a very good understanding (from them) of the concept we have. There might be a lift of that ban for (WhatsApp) voice calls… and this is going to happen soon, this is what we know and understand from the telecommunication authority here in the UAE.”

At present all the VoIP services offering free voice and video calls via the internet are illegal to use in UAE. Therefore, people cannot use popular apps like Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp which offers this service. Currently, people can only use the chat service legally, however, some of the people living over here use VPNs to access the free calling options.

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The possible reasons for putting a ban over these VoIP services were because of the regulatory framework in UAE and data encryptions. Moreover, the country has a monopoly in its telecom sector as there are only two players, Du and Etisalat. Blocking the usage of these free calling services, therefore, benefited the telecom sectors which are controlled by the state. Therefore, people living in the UAE were forced to pay higher rates for making local or international phone calls.

The adjoining Gulf countries are however lenient on the usage of the VoIP services. Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar now allow people to use the VoIP services offered by Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp, but only through licensed telecoms operators. Microsoft and Apple jointly approached the UAE authorities last year to allow the usage of Skype and FaceTime. The chat services were opened, but the calling services are still restricted.

Few of the alternative VoIP services like Yzer and VoIP apps like Botim, C'Me and HiU Messenger were introduced in the Gulf Countries last August. These services were also made authorised to be used in the UAE by the government.

On the context of balancing technology with national security, Al Kuwaiti said that the government is thinking to reconsider the entire situation. The reason is, when there is an increase in connectivity there will be more challenges to tackle a new ecosystem.

Robin Vinod

Writer/blogger who writes on topics such as travel, real estate, employment and everyday life on GCC countries.

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