These days Al Jazeera is crying foul accusing Ethiopian authorities of blocking their website. The Qatari satellite TV network reached that conclusion based on a data collected from Google Analytics, a program that tracks the number of visitors a site attracts. Their analysis showed that Al Jazeera’s hits dropped sharply from the 50,000 mark to mere hundreds between August and September of 2012. The data seem a bit older considering the Channel’s tradition of breaking the news.
All said and done, that is hardly news. Ethiopia has been filtering online contents for the better part of the last decade. Scores of websites have been blocked. Almost all foreign broadcast to the country are routinely jammed.
Government officials have for long denied any involvement in such activities, until they got a cue from the late dictator, who famously said: “I will give them the clear guideline to jam it (VOA Amharic),” back in March 2010. Then his disciples started to come out with similar pronouncements: “If there is a threat, there is nothing that can stop us from shutting them down,” former spy chief and telecom head Dr Debretsion Gebremichael told the now defunct Amharic weekly Awramba Times, talking about the online media his office was blocking.
Enter the virus
Citizen Lab, an affiliate of the University of Toronto in Canada, revealed recently yet another means Ethiopian authorities employ to spy on citizens’ online activities. They use a spyware called FinFisher embedded in the image of Ginbot 7 leaders. Who ever downloads those images or open emails associated with them is letting the viruses in to their system. That way, Ethiopian authorities are supposed to sniff what opposition political activists have in store for them. Victims of the viruses, however, have yet to be found.
Asked about the FinFisher software that the government is alleged to have used, the telecom head was tight-lipped. He denied any knowledge of the claim.
The latest revelation of the usage of spyware to infect users computers in a bid to spy on their online activities shows the distance the government is willing to go. According to the 2012 World Internet Stats, with 1.1 percent internet penetration rate, Ethiopia stands right at the bottom of all African countries. Then it is mind boggling to think why the authorities allocate the scant resources chasing after an imagined conspiracy instead of improving the shabby telecom infrastructure.
For the record…
A confidential minute said to have leaked from the office of the Prime Minister describes the shadowy security chief Getachew Assefa explaining at length how his office had been “intercepting cell phone conversations; breaking in to the email correspondence of Muslim activists; collecting and analyzing information; closely monitoring Facebook postings as well as Paltalk discussions.” In one of the last meetings the former tyrant presided, the security chief concedes he has not been able to collect anything of significance.
As a passing remark, the country’s all too inconsequential constitution states: “All persons have the right to the inviolability of their letters, post and communications by means of telephone, telecommunications and electronic devices.” Tell it to the marines!