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Ethiopia criminalizes VoIP services like Skype with new law

Update (7/2/2012): According to some news organizations, Ethiopia’s telecommunications law is in draft form and has not yet been ratified, despite earlier media reports to that effect.

Ethiopia’s new telecommunications law, which was ratified last month, essentially makes the use of Internet-based communications like Skype and GoogleTalk a crime punishable by up to 15 years of jail time.

According to The African Review, the new telecommunications law “strictly prohibits VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) which includes audio and video related social media communication, and the transfer of information packages through the fast growing global cyber networks.”

Although Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of Internet penetration in the world–about 1 percent of its population has access to the Internet–Africa’s second most populous country has strict laws governing Internet service.  Its state-owned telecoms carrier Ethio Telecom is the country’s sole Internet Service provider.

Ethiopia had previously banned the use of VoIP by private users, but this new legislation adds criminal penalties that include significant fines and jail time.  The new law also allows the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to supervise and issue licenses to all companies that import communications equipment.

The Ethiopian government justifies this law as a move to protect its national security interests and its state-owned telecoms carrier Ethio Telecom from revenue losses to Internet communications services like Skype.

At the same time, reports indicate that Ethio Telecom is likely utilizing deep packet inspection (DPI) to block access to the Tor Network, which allows users to browse anonymously and access websites blocked by censors.  The fact that the country is using DPI, means that they could potentially leverage that technology to detect when citizens use VoIP and thereby increase enforcement of their new law.

About the Author: Malavika Jagannathan

3 Comments to “Ethiopia criminalizes VoIP services like Skype with new law”

  1. Yitbarek:

    Ethio Telecom tariff is very expensive, i am so mad because skype was what we use to communicate with friends and customers abroad.

  2. Andy Boyle:

    Ethiopia government is really doing great job by stopping unauthorized access through internet. I hope following ways will be able stop VoIP actions in Ethiopia permanently. Thanks

  3. Adefrise:

    There’s already a very strict control over written press, and last year several journalists were arrested, and now the government is tackling communications over the internet.
    The Ethiopian government is trying to attack every means of information exchange because more and more people in Ethiopia are turning to new technologies, and some are even able to bypass censorship, which explains why the government is trying to use effective methods to control internet communications.

    The opposition and the media are being listened to, and people usually take care when they talk on the phone.

    We have had in the past cases of blocking websites of independent and opposition parties, so censorship isn’t new – but now it’s a new stage, and what the world is worried about, is that by criminalising communications by Skype, the government is implementing a system to have a general policy of internet control and preparing for more rounds of genocide behind the scenes.