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Study: Ethiopia only sub-Sahara Africa nation to filter Net

o Rebecca Wanjiku
08.10.2009 kl 17:12 |

Though various African countries monitor and restrict Internet access in some way, Ethiopia is the only country with a technical filtering regime in the sub-Saharan region, according to a report by OpenNet Initiative, a collaborative partnership between Harvard, Toronto, Cambridge and Oxford universities.

 

Though various African countries monitor and restrict Internet access in some way, Ethiopia is the only country with a technical filtering regime in the sub-Saharan region, according to a report by OpenNet Initiative, a collaborative partnership between Harvard, Toronto, Cambridge and Oxford universities.

The study, conducted in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe between 2008 and 2009, found that though sub-Saharan Africa has a history of controlling freedom of expression, Ethiopia was the only country filtering the Internet.

The research cites sporadic IP blocking of sites, rather than more sophisticated URL blocking. Most filtering targets political content. However, many countries in the region also practice other forms of censorship such as arresting or threatening bloggers, online journalists and Internet users.

"Ethiopia's filtering regime targets independent media, blogs, and political reform and human rights sites; many prominent sites that are critical of the Ethiopian government remain accessible, while some blocked sites seem harmless," said the report.

According to the study, various blogs as well as the Nazret Web site, which aggregates Ethiopian content, are blocked. The sites of opposition political parties, minority ethnic groups, independent news organizations and Ethiopia-specific human rights organizations appeared to be a priority for blocking, though many international sites containing comparable information (such as CNN, Voice of America, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International) were not blocked.

To ensure compliance with government directives, the Ethiopia government restricts provision of Internet access to the state-owned Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) and the Ethiopian Telecommunication Agency (ETA). The ETA grants the ETC a monopoly license as Ethiopia's sole ISP (Internet service provider) and seller of domain names under the country code top-level domain, ".et." Internet cafés and other resellers of Internet services must be licensed by the ETA and must purchase their access through the ETC.

"In late December 2006, ETA gave a directive requiring Internet cafés to log the names and addresses of individual customers, apparently as part of an effort to track users who engaged in illegal activities online. The lists are to be turned over to the police, and Internet café owners who fail to register users face prison," the report said.

Zimbabwe has been singled out for "sub-Saharan Africa's most extensive" surveillance regimes.

"The Zimbabwe Post and Telecommunications Act of 2000 allows the government to monitor e-mail usage and requires ISPs to supply information to government officials when requested," the report said.

Due to the political problems that have bedeviled Zimbabwe, the government strengthened its Internet surveillance policies with the Communications Bill of 2006, which established a telecommunications agency called the Monitoring and Interception of Communications Center. It also requires telecommunications and Internet service providers to ensure that their systems are technically capable of monitoring.

After the Sept. 11 attacks on New York City many governments enacted antiterrorism laws, and in some cases the laws were used to suppress freedom of expression. Dissident voices were cited for terrorism or treason.

"The initial draft of Uganda's Interception of Communications Bill of 2007 allowed phone tapping and other forms of electronic surveillance on people suspected of committing terrorism or crimes against the State without requiring a court order," said Rebekah Heacock, the report author.

In Nigeria, the Communications Act 2003 gives the government the authority to require people to supply any information for the purposes of national security. Punishment for refusal includes a year in prison and a fine of US$676.

The report concludes that although the region does not have widespread Internet filtering, it does not necessarily indicate that the countries are taking an intentionally open approach to the Internet.

Keywords: Internet  Government  
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