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Ethiopian government bans Skype, other VoIP services

The Ethiopian government has banned the use of Skype and other VoIP communication services, as well as the Tor network that allows Internet users to browse anonymously and to bypass ISP blocks on certain sites.

According to Al-Jazeera, the country ratified a new law on 24 May outlawing Internet-based phone and video calls, making the use of Skype and similar services punishable by a maximum of 15 years in prison. The government cites national security as the reason for the crackdown.

Ethiopia, whose current government has long stifled competition in telecommunications, has a single, nationally controlled ISP. Among other things, the lack of competition means infrastructure growth has been limited, making the country sub-Saharan Africa's second-lowest rate of Internet penetration.

"Skype is not illegal. What is illegal is using Skype for fraudulent activities such as making unauthorised calls," a government spokesperson told the BBC.

"We need to have regulations, that is standard in all countries. In any business you have to be licensed. This law is in the public interest and the right of individuals to communicate is protected by our constitution," he added.

But some believe the law functions more as a censorship tool.

"The Ethiopian government is trying to attack every means of information exchange," head of Reporters Without Borders' Africa desk Ambroise Pierre told the BBC.

"More and more people in Ethiopia are turning to new technologies, and some are even able to bypass censorship, which explains why the government is trying to use effective methods to control internet communications."

The group has said the government is implementing a Deep Packet Inspection system to filter the Web, a sophisticated technology through which it can eventually intercept emails, social media communication and VoIP phone calls.

The so-called Arab Spring and other recent instances of public protest facilitated by social media networks like Facebook and Twitter have undoubtedly been worrisome to governments around the globe, leading some activists - and even Google CEO Eric Schmidt - to warn that Web freedom would prove to be the next frontier in human rights movements.