[IRP] Egypt and the Complicated Ethics of the Telecommunications Industry

Katitza Rodriguez katitza
Tue Feb 1 23:42:42 EET 2011

Egypt and the Complicated Ethics of the Telecommunications Industry

"Like many people, I?ve been watching the scenes of democratic protests 
in Egypt unfold with a mixture of awe and fascination, fear and hope. 
I?ve also been reflecting on the implications of these events for the 
relationship between business and human rights.

Over the past few months, I?ve been writing a BSR report on protecting 
human rights in the age of global digital communications, and so the 
near-complete shutdown of modern communications in Egypt, and the role 
of private companies in that shutdown, has been a source of particular 
interest to me?especially the complex ethics of providing 
telecommunications services in countries with poor human rights records.

On the one hand, telecommunications services provide huge opportunities 
for increased freedom of expression and can play a significant role in 
opening up closed societies. On the other hand, telecoms companies 
everywhere come under significant pressure to collaborate with law 
enforcement activities, such as enabling real-time surveillance or 
assisting in the pursuit of criminals.

Most of the time that?s not a big problem: There are plenty of 
legitimate reasons why law enforcement agencies and companies may 
restrict the free flow of information (such as removing images of child 
exploitation) or allow access to personal information (such as tackling 
violent crime).

But there are times when it can become a big problem. Just ask Vodafone, 
who issued the following statement late last week: ?All mobile operators 
in Egypt have been instructed to suspend services in selected areas. 
Under Egyptian legislation, the authorities have the right to issue such 
an order and we are obliged to comply with it.? Over the weekend, 
Vodafone was able to restore its services, and explained its previous 
actions by stating that ?there were no legal or practical options open 
to Vodafone or any of the mobile operators in Egypt, but to comply with 
the demands of the authorities.?

So what are the ethics of Vodafone?s circumstances in Egypt?" Read full 
article here: 

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