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Ethiopia reportedly makes using VoIP services like Skype a criminal offense

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The Ethiopian government has reportedly made VoIP services like Skype criminal, punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

Skype logo stock
Skype logo stock

According to reports, the Ethiopian government has increased its restrictions on internet use in the country, which now make accessing voice over IP tools like Skype a crime. The law was reportedly ratified last month, on May 24th, and according to Reporters Without Borders the crime is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. "The authorities say the ban was needed on national security grounds and because VoIP posed a threat to the state's monopoly of telephone communications," the group said earlier this month. Amharic-language Ethiopian newspaper Addis Admas appears to be the first outlet to have reported on the new law.

"We have previously analyzed the same kind of censorship in China, Iran, and Kazakhstan."

In addition to criminalizing Skype, the Ethiopian government is now also blocking citizens from accessing anonymizing tool Tor, which makes it possible to access banned websites. On May 31st Tor revealed that state-owned Ethio Telecom had either deployed or started testing deep packet inspection of internet traffic in the country, and at the time Tor had been blocked for around a week. "We have previously analyzed the same kind of censorship in China, Iran, and Kazakhstan," the project explained in a blog post. Since that time the network has developed a workaround for citizens in Ethiopia.

Internet penetration in the nation is relatively limited — according to Google just 0.75 percent of the 82 million people in Ethiopia had internet access in 2010. But despite the relatively small number of internet users in the country, Reporters Without Borders believes that these actions could be a "turning point in the Ethiopian government's control of the Internet," with these DPI techniques potentially used for surveillance of those citizens who do have access.