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Vodafone confirms role in Egypt’s cellular, Internet blackout

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, January 28, 2011 14:46 EDT
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An executive at London-based Vodafone Group PLC explained Friday morning that it did indeed have a role in the phone and Internet blackout affecting Egypt since Thursday night, confirming speculation that the firm had cooperated with the regime to close off protesters’ communications.

Vodafone Group CEO Vittorio Colao said that because the order by Egyptian authorities appeared to be in line with the nation’s laws, the company was “obligated” to comply.

Egypt, which has been under a declared state of “emergency” for decades, long ago passed a series of security provisions that were later mirrored in post-9/11 powers assumed by leaders in the US. Egypt’s provisions, however, went much further.

The Egyptian government’s order to shut down applied to all mobile phone operators and Internet service providers in the country. A graphic depicting Internet traffic to and from the country showed a dramatic and almost complete drop-off starting Thursday morning.

Some land-line service, however, was reportedly still functioning by late Friday. Sporadic reports of working DSL connections surfaced by late Friday as well, and a French Internet service provider had begun offering free dial-up access to Egyptians.

Rumors that neighboring Syria had cut off its Internet access as well surfaced on Friday morning, but follow-up reports found no evidence this was the case.

Vodafone was for years the Egyptian government’s partner in building and maintaining the regime’s official website and network infrastructure.

Protesters on Friday destroyed Vodafone stores in Cairo, among other locations tied to the ruling regime, according to reports by Al Jazeera English.

In the wake of Iran’s “green revolution,” the relationship between Western technology providers and the country’s oppressive regime became painfully apparent when The Wall Street Journal revealed that Siemens AG and Nokia Corp. aided the development of a digital censorship apparatus.

“If you sell networks, you also, intrinsically, sell the capability to intercept any communication that runs over them,” a spokesman for the two firms’ joint venture told the paper. He suggested the regime’s “monitoring center,” which even allowed deep-packet inspection and information tampering through Internet back-doors, was a standard part of a larger telecom contract with Iran.

It was unclear whether Vodafone’s government-sponsored network worked similarly in Egypt.

Raw Story’s requests for comment sent to Vodafone’s corporate relations arm did not trigger a reply.

Vodafone Group PLC owns a 45 percent stake in US communications provider Verizon Wireless.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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