by By Katrina Kaiser
Internet shutdowns, content filtering, arrests of bloggers, and online
surveillance in North Africa have been headline news for the past year and
a half, but internet issues in the rest of the African continent havent
received quite as much press coverage. This silence is partly because there
is simply less internet penetration south of the Sahara, but there may also
be a paralyzing current of opinion whereby stories that highlight human
rights issues or a lack of democracy in the region are either dismissed as
old news or written off as paternalistic.
Ethiopia sometimes gets particularly little coverage in Western or
international media because the political situation there is not nearly as
dramatic as it is in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The government
is nominally structured as a parliamentary democracy and it has good
relations with the United States and Europe. Still, the ruling Ethiopian
People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front tightly controls the countrys
electoral politics and media representation.
Internet censorship and content filtering are
Ethiopia. The state owns and manages the countrys sole Internet
Service provider, Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (Ethio-Telcom). While
Ethiopian Internet penetration is only about 1%, there is still a vibrant,
tightly-knit community of bloggers whose websites, blogs, and Facebook
pages have been blocked by the government. The blocks themselves look
innocuous to Ethiopian Internet users, because the browser will simply
notify users that the server request has timed out.
This error-message block is similar to what users have experienced in
trying to access censored websites or use restricted search terms. It
figures, then, that the Ethiopian and Chinese governments have conducted
mass media institution management and Internet management.
Inexpensive Chinese technology has also replaced American technology for building
Ethiopian Internet infrastructure.
EFF recently reported on a new Telecom Service Infringement
includes explicit content-filtering provisions that protect national
security. The law criminalizes online speech that may be construed as
defamatory or terrorist, and holds the website or account owner liable even
if the speech is posted as a comment by a third party on their website.
These speech-chilling stipulations are hidden deep within a licensing bill
that would, on the surface, seem to simply clarify Ethio-Telecoms power to
regulate Internet services such as VoIP.
Aggressive content regulation through secret filtering and legal
restrictions is just the beginning of Ethiopias draconian Internet policy.
Ethio-Telecom has recently begun deep packet inspection of all Internet
traffic in the country. Engineers at the Tor Project
Tor <https://www.torproject.org/about/overview> stopped working in Ethiopia
weeks ago. They determined that the Internet service provider had figured
out how to fingerprint and subsequently block Tor requests encrypted
through TLS. Bridge-configuration, the ordinary way to get around Tor
blocks in other countries, failed to work in Ethiopia until a workaround
was subsequently developed. An engineer at Tor later
My guess is that they are only blocking Tor because whatever device
(probably from an outside firm) they have came with a block-Tor-plugin. At
this time, the only other countries that actively block access to Tor are
China and Iran.
Why does Ethiopia keep company with some of the most restrictive Internet
regimes in the world if the country has so little connectivity and few
users? The countrys Internet policy continues to develop in the broader
context of an equally restrictive press freedom environment. During the
last general election in 2005, many journalists, election observers, and
opposition party leaders were detained. UNESCO hosted a World Press Freedom
Day event in Addis Ababa, the national capital, about a year ago.
Ironically, the government forcibly
independent journalists on the agenda with pro-government speakers.
Like the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan,
Tajikistan, Georgia and Kazakhstan, the Ethiopian government may be
ratcheting up its Internet censorship regime in response to fears sparked
by the Arab Spring. EFF will continue to keep a close eye on development as
politically sensitive milestones, such as the Ethiopias general election,