Egypt Increases Censorship, Blocks VoIP Services

It’s being reported by some sources that Egypt has blocked most VoIP services and applications within the country. These include services like Skype, WhatsApp and Viber.

There are varying reports about why the services are blocked: “Official statements from NTRA [Egypt’s telecommunications regulator] deny blocking, customer service representatives publicly deny blocking, but after pressure they mention to a lot of complaining users that blocking decision is ordered by NTRA.

Others report it was done for financial reasons, on behalf of telecommunications companies: “The reasons given for this surprising move were that financial losses in telecommunication companies, caused by a shift away from regular calling and text messaging, made it necessary.”

Regardless of the reason, the blocking of VoIP services represents censorship in the region and a threat to Internet freedom. The new restrictions will make staying in touch with friends and family difficult for many, and will also be damaging to startups and other small businesses operating within the country.

Despite many reports of the ban, the government is denying it and referring to the ban as a “rumor.”

Egypt has some history of blocking sites, which can be traced back to the Egyptian revolution. In Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2014 report, Egypt was reported to have an Internet experience that is “partly free.” This description includes obstacles to access, limits on content and violations of user rights. The country has also experienced practices like suspended telecommunications services during military and political events, and strong “self-censorship” (people unwilling to speak out online because they fear the consequences). Additionally, news sources and journalists are reportedly sometimes detained, especially at anti-government or political events.

The report also states that in Egypt “Between 2008 and 2011, state police admitted to engaging in surveillance, online censorship, and cyberattacks.”