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Grossly Criminalizing': Using Skype in Ethiopia Could Lead to 15 Years in Jail

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"...puts rather horrendous punishments on acts that could not compellingly be put into the category of national risks."

In May, the Telecom Crime Controlling Prevention Proclamation was passed in Ethiopia. This legislation is now gaining international attention for a provision that would criminalize using services like Skype within the country.

Under the new law, according to OPride.com, use of voice over IP services, like Skype or Google Voice, would carry between two and eight years in jail, while use of an online phone service could land citizens with 15 years. Here's why:

Ethiopian authorities say the law was necessary to protect the country’s national security interest, and because VoIP services posed a threat to the state’s monopoly over telephone communications business. VoIP’s enable users to call long-distance at free or reduced rates. “Ethio-Telecom has been losing 83 per cent of its income from its international calling business due to the illegal operations of private service providers,” wrote Argaw Ashine of Africa Review, quoting Ethiopian officials.

Many within the country see this move as wrong and illegal. Addis Fortune (via OPride) called the legislation "grossly criminalizing" and calls to mind the other technological advances that used to be considered a crime in the country: owning a satellite dish and using a credit card. The editorial in the publication goes on to say:

It puts rather horrendous punishments on acts that could not compellingly be put into the category of national risks. It overstretches the concept of national security at the expense of individual liberty, a recent trend in Ethiopian legislative history.

Protecting national interests including security and stability are mentioned as the prime objectives of the bill. That would have been a good excuse for the drafters had the Ethiopian Constitution not put it under an exception to the inviolable rights of individual privacy.

By and large, the bill puts all technological advancements in the world, except those known to the executive branch of the government, under the category of the social bad. Possessing them is declared criminal and so is using them.

Africa Review states websites critical of the government have quietly been blocked lends credence to those saying this law is meant to limit freedom of expression. An example of this is just last month Reporters Without Borders found the network Tor, which lets users search anonymously, was blocked.

Reporters Without Borders speculated this would "reinforce government control of news and information." The method by which they blocked Tor was called a "Deep Packet Inspection," which Reporters Without Borders states is used by other "enemies of the Internet" like China and Iran. At this time the advocacy group also speculated this move was setting the government up with the ability to "intercept emails, messages posted on social networks and Internet voice conversations using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) software such as Skype."

Now that it appears to have made Skyping illegal, this could be how it intends to nab those using the service.

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