Act Now in Dubai 

Last week the Act Now team returned from a trip to the United Arab Emirates to promote our Middle East training programme. It was a great opportunity to better understand the UAE privacy framework and the needs of businesses faced with the challenge of implementing new laws (as well as get some sun!) 

The Middle East is fast catching up with Europe when it comes to data protection law.
The UAE recently enacted a federal law to comprehensively regulate the processing of personal data in all seven emirates. This will sit alongside current data protection laws regulating businesses in the various financial districts such as the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Data Protection Law No. 5 of 2020 and the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) Data Protection Regulations 2021. In addition there are a number of sector specific laws in the UAE which address personal privacy and data security.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar also now have comprehensive data protection laws. 

Whilst in Dubai we met with a number of potential clients, consultancies and law firms specialising in data protection. It was a great opportunity to discuss the changing privacy landscape and how Act Now can assist in developing the understanding of the legislation and its practical implementation. We had some interesting discussions about the changing privacy attitudes around the world, the power of Big Tech and increasing use of AI. 

We also had meetings with data protection regulators in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. We were impressed by their commitment to educating businesses about the new laws and their practical advice to reduce the burden of implementation. They emphasised the importance of embedding a privacy culture in organisations and an understanding of the UAE laws as standalone privacy laws and not just “importing of GDPR”. A special thank you to Lori Baker at the DIFC and Sayid Madar at the ADGM for taking time out of their busy schedules to meet us.  

During our last trip to Dubai in 2018 there was very little awareness of data protection law amongst businesses and compliance seemed to be geared around GDPR. This time on our travels (and shopping trips) we certainly noticed a more serious attitude amongst larger businesses to try and get data protection right. We saw  privacy notices in most official forms, CCTV signs in malls and even a privacy notice recording when ringing our hotel.  

The introduction and/or revision of privacy law in the Middle East is an important development which further proves that data protection is a truly global issue.
Many organisations may need to appoint a Data Protection Officer as part of the new legal framework. Even where they do not need a DPO they will certainly need someone to drive forward compliance and liaise with regulators. This opens up opportunities for UK and EU Data Protection professionals especially as the new laws have some alignment with  the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)  and the  UK GDPR

These are exciting times for data protection professionals. For those seeking a fresh new challenge and the opportunity to spread the data protection message to new jurisdictions, now is the time to brush up on Middle East data protection laws. See photos of our trip below. Sun, sea and subject access awaits! 

The New UAE Federal Data Protection Law

The United Arab Emirates has enacted its first comprehensive national data protection law to regulate the collection and processing of personal data. Federal Decree Law No. 45 of 2021 regarding the Protection of Personal Data (PDPL) was published by the Cabinet Office on 27th November 2021 as part of a legal reform programme in advance of the UAE’s Golden Jubilee. The detailed Executive Regulations are expected to be published on 20th  March 2022 with the new law becoming fully enforceable six months later.

The UAE is no stranger to data protection laws. The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Data Protection Law No. 5 of 2020 became enforceable in October 2020. However, it only applies companies under the jurisdiction of the DIFC as well as those processing personal data on their behalf.  In February 2021, the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) enacted its new Data Protection Regulations 2021 with the same limited applicability.  There are also a number of other sector specific laws in the UAE which address personal privacy and data security. 


PDPL applies to all organisations that are processing personal data in the UAE irrespective of whether the data relates to Data Subjects living in the UAE. It also has an “extra-territorial” reach by applying to organisations based abroad who are processing personal data of Data Subjects resident in the UAE. PDPL does not apply to government data, government authorities that control or process personal data and personal data held by security and judicial authorities. Health data, credit data and banking data are also excluded as they are protected by other laws.

Key Provisions

PDPL is closely aligned with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the UK GDPR. It mirrors their underlying principles of transparency and accountability and, like them, empowers Data Subjects by giving them rights in relation to their personal data. We set out below the notable provisions. We have included links to previous GDPR blog posts useful for readers wanting more detail:

  • Lawful Bases – Article 4 states that personal data can only be processed with the consent of the Data Subject. Exceptions include, amongst others, if the processing is: necessary to execute a contract to which the Data Subject is a party; required to protect interests of the public; relates to data already in the public domain; necessary to comply with other laws. Interestingly, PDPL does not include “legitimate interests” as a lawful basis for processing, as is found in GDPR.
  • Consent – Where consent is used as the lawful basis for processing personal data, it should be obtained from Data Subjects in a specific, clear and unambiguous form and should be freely given through a clear affirmative statement or action (Article 6). Consent can be withdrawn at any time.
  • Rights – Data Subjects are granted various rights in Articles 14-18 of the PDPL which will be familiar to GDPR practitioners. These include  Subject AccessData Portability, rectification or erasure of personal data, restriction on processing, objection to automated decision making and the right to stop processing.
  • Data Protection Impact Assessments – Article 21 requires, what GDPR Practitioners call, “DPIAs” to be undertaken in relation to any new high risk data processing operations. This will involve assessing the impact of the processing on the risks to the rights of Data Subjects, especially their privacy and confidentiality.
  • Breach Notification – Article 9 requires organisations to notify the regulator, as well as a Data Subjects, if they suffer a personal data breach which compromises Data Subjects’ confidentiality, security or privacy. The timeframe for notifying will be set by the Executive Regulations.
  • Data Processors – PDPL imposes direct compliance obligations on Data Processors in Article 8 and obligations on Data Controllers when engaging them, similar to Article 28 of GDPR e.g. contracts.
  • Records Management – Organisations will have to demonstrate compliance with PDPL by keeping records. There is a specific requirement in Article 7 to “keep a register of Personal Data” similar to a Record of Processing Activities(ROPA) under GDPR.
  • International Transfers – Article 22  imposes limitations on the international transfer of personal data outside of the UAE.  Similar to the concept of the “adequacy” under the GDPR, the regulator is expected to approve certain countries as having “sufficient provisions, measures, controls, requirements and rules” for protecting privacy and confidentiality of personal data. Article 23 sets out exceptions although further details will be set out in the Executive Regulations.
  • Data Protection Officers – Organisations (both controllers and processors) will need to appoint a Data Protection Officer (DPO) in certain circumstances, set out in Article 10, including where the processing creates a high-level risk due to the use of new technology or the volume of the personal data; processing includes an assessment of sensitive personal data as part of profiling or automated processing; or where large volumes of sensitive personal data are processed. The DPO can be an employee or an independent service provider and does not need to be located in the UAE. Articles 11 set out the responsibilities of the DPO and it is interesting to note that, just like under the GDPR, the PDPL gives the role protected status i.e. they cannot be dismissed for doing their job.


PDPL will be enforced by the UAE’s Data Office. The Executive Regulations will set out the administrate penalties that can be imposed on organisations for breaches. They could mirror current laws, such as the DIFC DP Law, where the maximum fine for a breach is $100,000. Organisations may also be required to pay compensation directly to Data Subjects or be sued by them. Alongside other sanctions, GDPR allows the regulator to impose a fine of up to 20 million Euros or 4% of gross annual turnover, whichever is higher. It will be interesting to see if PDPL follows GDPR.

Practical Steps

PDPL is likely to become fully enforceable by the end of September 2022. Organisations operating in the UAE need to assess the impact on their data processing activities. Systems and processes need to be put in place to ensure compliance. Failure to do so will not just lead to enforcement action but also reputational damage. The following should be part of an action plan for compliance:

  • Training staff at all levels to understand PDPL at how it will impact on their role.
  • Carrying out a data audit to understand what personal data is held, where it sits and how it is processed.
  • Reviewing how records management and information risk  is addressed within the organisation.
  • Reviewing information security policies and procedures in the light of the new more stringent security obligations particularly breach notification.
  • Draft policies and procedures to deal with Data Subjects’ rights particularly requests for subject access, rectification and erasure.
  • Appointing and training a  Data Protection Officer.

Act Now Training can help your organisation prepare for PDPL by training your staff and the all-important Data Protection Officer. We have delivered training to UAE businesses using our UAE specific training courses.  This includes our very popular DPO Certificate course customised for the UAE. We can also deliver customised in house training both online and face to face. 

Please get in touch to discuss you training needs. We are in Dubai from 16th to 21st January 2022 and would be happy to arrange a meeting.

The New Dubai (DIFC) Data Protection Law

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1st of July 2020 is a key date in the development of global data protection law.
The  California Consumer Privacy Act  (CCPA)  became fully enforceable on this date following a six month grace period.  The Act regulates the processing of California consumers’ personal data, regardless of where a company is located. It provides broader rights to consumers and stricter compliance requirements for businesses than any other state or federal privacy law.

1st July 2020 is also the date when a new data protection law also came into effect in Dubai, although it will not be enforced until 1st October 2020. The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Data Protection Law No. 5 of 2020 (DPL2020) will regulate the collection, handling, disclosure and use of personal data and includes enhanced governance and transparency obligations. DPL2020 is closely aligned with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and replaces DIFC Law No. 1 of 2007.


DPL2020 is not a data protection law for the whole of the United Arab Emirates or even just the emirate Dubai. The UAE has several laws on covering data protection themes including cyber security but there isn’t yet one main national data protection law across the country. 

DPL 2020 mainly applies to businesses operating in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). This is the leading financial hub in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region. The 110-acre DIFC district is located in the heart of Dubai where 2400 business are registered employing over 25000 professionals in, amongst others, the legal, financial, management and regulatory sectors. If a business is registered in the DIFC, or processes personal data within the DIFC as part of stable arrangements it is covered by the new law as well as any business which processes data on behalf of either of the above.

Key Provisions

Those who know about GDPR will find many familiar concepts and principles in DPL2020 including data protection principles, Data Subjects’ rights and obligations on Data Controllers and Data Processors. We set out below the notable provisions. We have included links to our blog posts explaining the similar provisions found in GDPR:

  • Records Management: Businesses will have to demonstrate compliance with DPL2020. This requires amongst other things, better record management.
  • Data Protection Impact AssessmentsThese will have to be undertaken in relation to any new High Risk Processing Activities”. This will involve assessing the impact of the proposed data processing operation on the risks to the rights of Data Subjects.
  • Privacy Notices: These will have to be updated to include more information including the legal basis for processing and the rights of Data Subjects.
  • Breach Notification: Businesses will have to notify the regulator if they suffer a personal data breach which compromises a Data Subject’s confidentiality, security or privacy. In the case of High Risk, the Data Subject must also be informed.
  • Data Processors: The new law imposes direct compliance obligations on Data Processors and also imposes mandatory contractual requirements.
  • Data Protection Officers: Some businesses will have to appoint a DPOdepending on whether they conduct High Risk Processing Activities.


Like GDPR, DPL2020 is enforced by a regulator; The Commissioner of Data Protection who has power, amongst other sanctions, to issue administrative fines for breaches.
The maximum fine is 100,000 US dollars. The DIFC Courts may also require a business to pay compensation directly to Data Subjects.

In addition, aggrieved Data Subjects but can sue for compensation which is not subject to a cap. The Commissioner can also bring a compensation claims on behalf of Data Subjects who have suffered material harm and who are disadvantaged in their ability to bring their own claim.

What Next?

Businesses in the DIFC have four months before DPL2020 is fully enforced. Considering that those covered by GDPR had four years, this is not a long period. Now is the time to put systems and processes in place to ensure compliance. Failure to do so will not just lead to enforcement action but also reputational damage.

The following should be part of an action plan for compliance:

  1. Raising awareness about DPL2020 at all levels. Our  GDPR e learning course  can be tailored for frontline staff.
  2. Carrying out a data audit and reviewing how records management and information risk  is addressed.
  3. Reviewing information security policies and procedures in the light of the new more stringent security obligations particularly  breach notification.
  4. Revising  privacy policies  in the light of the more prescriptive transparency requirements.
  5. Writing policies and procedures to deal with new and revised Data Subject rights such as  Data Portability  and  Subject Access.
  6. Appointing and training a  Data Protection Officer.

Act Now Training can help your businesses prepare for DPL2020. We have an international reputation in delivering data protection law training  and consultancy.
In 2018 Ibrahim Hasan  travelled to Dubai to deliver a  GDPR workshop  for international businesses and their advisers based in the Middle East. A wide range of delegates attended including representatives of the telecommunications, legal and technology sectors.
We have also trained officials from the Government of Brunei on data protection audits.

Our GDPR Practitioner Certificate is ideal for new DPOs and is available as an online DIFC option. We can also deliver customised in house training both remotely and face to face. Please get in touch to discuss you training needs.

Act Now is pleased to announce that we have developed a training programme for those who need to learn about the new DIFC DP law. This includes a specific DIFC DPO Certificate, DIFC One Day Course and DIFC Foundation Certificate covering all the basic aspects of Information Governance.

Ibrahim Hasan will also be running the DPL2020 webinar in August where he will cover the most important aspects of the new legislation. The webinar is free for DIFC based businesses as well UK businesses doing trading in the UAE and their legal advisers. 

As data protection goes global, if you need a general awareness of the law and its implementation around the world we have a webinar in July.


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