The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is the latest group to voice concerns over Ethiopia’s increasingly draconian Internet control, even as the government justifies these measures as a safeguard against telecom fraud.
On Monday, CPJ outlined its concern about new sophisticated censorship methods employed in Ethiopia, which the group said may encourage other authoritarian regimes in Africa. According to the Associated Press, the CPJ statement says that “‘the rollout of a far more pervasive and sophisticated blocking system’” started in April to include smaller blogs by exiles and news services, and even individual Facebook pages.”
In late May, our colleagues at the Open Net Initiative noted reports that Ethio Telecom was likely using deep packet inspection (DPI) to block access to the Tor Network, which allows users to browse anonymously and access blocked websites. According to a French newspaper, France Telecom, which manages Ethio Telecom, helped the government implement this technology to monitor the country’s Internet subscribers.
Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of Internet penetration in the world–only about 1 percent of its population can access the Internet. However, as Africa’s second most populous country and one of the world’s fastest growing economies, that is likely to change quickly. Anticipating growth of Internet usage, the government imposes strict laws on Internet service, which is provided by the state-owned telecoms carrier Ethio Telecom.
Last month, media outlets reported extensively on the criminalization of VoIP services like Skype by Ethiopia’s new telecommunications law, which government officials say is still in draft form. However, one Ethiopian blogger writes that the prohibition of Skype may only apply to businesses, not individuals. He cautions that the law “is only a draft and only passed the first stage of the legislative process to date.”
Shimeles Kemal, a representative for the Ethiopian government, has said the draft proclamation is not intended to restrict access to Skype but to curb telecom-related offenses, according to the Sudan Tribune.
“The draft law aims to restrict internet telephone activities, not between telecom activities from computer to computer, but it aims to restrict unlicensed service providers who use internet to provide telephone services from internet to telephone lines. The aim of the regulation is not aimed at restricting IP and cyber activities. Nor did it intend to restrict computer to computer services,” said Kemal.
You can read the draft of the “proclamation on telecom offenses” here.