An Ethiopian communications crackdown is targeting Skype users, threatening a 15-year jail sentence for anyone who dares to make an Internet-based phone call.
New legislation passed in May has criminalized the use of Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) services that offer audio and video related communications, including Skype or Google Voice. Authorities have gone as far as to install a filtering system to monitor and block Internet use in the country since May, Reporters Without Borders said early this month. The Deep Packet Inspection process left anonymizing tool Tor out of service.
“The authorities say the ban was needed on national security grounds,” the group reported, “and because VoIP posed a threat to the state’s monopoly of telephone communications.”
While the country already forces strict control over the written press, it is now branching out to all Ethiopian citizens. According to the legislation, using VoIP is punishable by three to eight years in jail, while the use of an official Internet calling service like Skype could land you in jail for up to 15 years, the African Review reported.
The law also gives the Ministry of Communications and Information the power to ban the import of communication equipment, Reporters Without Borders said.
“Skype can’t be listened to so easily and can’t be controlled,” according to Elizabeth Blunt, the BBC’s former Ethiopia correspondent.
Skype did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Digital communication restrictions are not new to the African country, where the government has previously closed Internet cafes with VoIP services, according to theAfrican Review. In December 2006, the country began requiring Internet cafes to keep records of customers’ names and addresses in order to curb bloggers and others critical of the Ethiopian regime.
Only 360,000 people had Internet access in June 2009, OpenNet Initiative said, adding that access even in the capital city is often slow and unreliable.
For more from Stephanie, follow her on Twitter @smlotPCMag.