Human rights activists express concern that the United Arab Emirates might start applying strict laws to netizens’ attitude across the Metaverse, thus restricting the freedom of speech throughout the virtual domain.
The concerns were raised after remarks by Omar Sultan al-Olama, the UAE's minister for artificial intelligence, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, during which he warned against "cyber-murders."
"If I come into the Metaverse and it's a realistic world that we're talking about in the future, and I actually murder you, and you see it... it actually takes you to a certain extreme where you need to enforce aggressively across the world because everyone agrees that certain things are unacceptable," he added.
The Metaverse represents a highly interactive three-dimensional virtual world, which has come to revolutionize the gaming and virtual reality industries among other domains.
The remarks prompted human rights campaigners to wonder whether Abu Dhabi was seeking to extend the control it asserts across the real world, including by criminalizing dissent, to the virtual universe.
"The irony in that is that they (the UAE) use vague cyber-crime laws to sanction human rights defenders, and they want to use real laws to sanction Metaverse crimes," Lina al-Hathloul, the communications head of the Saudi human rights group ALQST, told the Middle East Eye (MEE) news and analysis website on Wednesday.
Olama's remarks exposed UAE duplicity, she said, adding, "They should first think about how they treat people in the real world and make sure that the cyber-crime laws are not used to prosecute human rights defenders. Human rights should be first applied in the real world".
Khalid Ibrahim, co-founder and executive director of the Persian Gulf Centre for Human Rights, likewise said the comments were hypocritical, as the UAE was calling for legislation against murder in the Metaverse, while jailing activists and placing them in harsh prison conditions.
"Legislations, such as the cyber-crime law, and other laws, are used to imprison activists," he told MEE. "In prison, they're really treated so badly, just because they called for a bit of respect, as well as civic and human rights of citizens," he added.
Hamad Alshamsi, executive director of the Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center, said, "The outlawing of the 'virtual murder' in the Metaverse will give the UAE the right to monitor the Metaverse world."
"The purpose of this statement is not to combat crime, but [is] an introduction to the censorship of Metaverses. They use spyware under the pretext of combating terrorism,” he added, saying, "They are obsessed with controlling and watching everything."
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