March 25, 2014

IV. The Future of Ethiopia’s Telecommunications Surveillance Capacity

The spread of information that would normally be taken as a given in many countries is limited in Ethiopia through a combination of repressive laws, lack of independence of media, jamming of radio and television stations and blocking of websites—all of which adds to existing fears of government oppression. In absence of a free and vibrant media, mobile and Internet communication can play an important role in the spread of ideas and perspectives. Telecom surveillance and, equally as important, the perception of pervasive telecom surveillance serves to limit the usefulness of these technologies to the ultimate betterment of society.

There is little doubt that surveillance is pervasive at every level of life in Ethiopia. But the use of advanced telecom surveillance technologies is still in its infancy. As this report shows, mobile telephone surveillance happens regularly and the technical potential exists for nearly any communication to be monitored in Ethiopia. Presently, this monitoring takes a considerable amount of human capacity, which severely restricts Ethiopia’s ability to monitor telecommunications on a large scale. While there is limited evidence available on specific cases where emails were intercepted or other Internet-based communication was monitored, the Ethiopian government has acquired the best technologies to do so. The government’s capacity to further restrict privacy rights, access to information, and freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly will grow as their ability to use the acquired advanced technologies grows—unless serious efforts are made, particularly by international donors, concerned governments, and the telecommunications industry, to reverse this disturbing trajectory.