Freedom of speech advocates and those in favor of privacy speak out against the sudden blockade of VoIP services in Egypt
Over the past few weeks, Egyptians, young and old alike, took to social media to voice their surprise and distaste for what many individuals have called “invasive censorship” by the Egyptian government. They have launched a “Save the Internet” campaign through Twitter and Facebook, specifically targeting frustration and deep concern over an apparent blockage of established services that use VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol. Additionally, the Egyptian government is now evidently closely monitoring online communications through Twitter, Skype, and Facebook through the use of a company called See Egypt.
This is the first time that Egyptian authorities have used a security organization such as See Egypt to systematically monitor Internet traffic, with Egyptians seriously concerned about the government’s ability to track and locate users at will. Several stories have surfaced of Egyptian social media users discussing hot button issues such as religion, politics, and more through Facebook or twitter, and then being arrested by Egyptian police and detained for extended periods of time. With the ability to not only monitor Internet conversations, but to also quickly and easily locate the physical whereabouts of the account holder, the Egyptian government is creating a nerve-racking situation for its citizens.
October 5, 2015 marked the day when major mobile providers such as Vodafone and Mobinil sent notices to their customers that applications like Skype and Facebook Voice would be suspended. Some of these companies indicated that it was only a temporary outage, or that there was a technical issue that was causing the problem, but thousands of Egyptians took to social media to espouse their beliefs on what occurred – a firewall by the Egyptian government to quell communication. Beyond the alleged invasions of privacy and frustrations related to this blockade, many business owners in Egypt are finding that they are unable to conduct business as usual due to a lack of access to VoIP services.
Not being able to Skype with a customer overseas, or to easily and affordably make a phone call to a client across the globe, has pushed many Egyptian businesses to the brink of insolvency in a matter of days. One business owner mentioned that lack of access to Internet-based voice services has been harmful, but of particular concern is the blockage of Internet video – which he uses to offer remote assistance to customers. The Egyptian Ministry of Communication and Information Technology has not issued a clear response, and there seems to be no resolution to the issue as of yet. One thing is for sure, the Egyptian ban on VoIP services is creating a significant concern among entrepreneurs within the country – and it is affecting the clients and prospective business partners of these same businesses around the world.