Thursday, June 09, 2016

Morocco's Internet Freedom Battle Continues

At the same time as Moroccans find ways of avoiding the ban on Skype, WhatsApp and FaceBook Live, a new decree, published in the official government bulletin issued June 8, reveals an attempt to create a new legal framework for the blocking of VoIP by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Agency (ANRT). It details the procedures to follow in case of litigation, and information on anti-competitive practices

Developed by the Minister of Industry, Trade, Investment and the Digital Economy, this decree is intended to clarify the definition of anti-competitive practices in the field of telecommunications. To do so, it refers directly to the definition given by the law on free pricing and competition which prohibits actions that have "as their object or may have the effect of preventing, restricting or distorting competition, abuse by a company or group of companies."

In addition to the anti-competitive practices the decree also provides powers to the ANRT, allowing it to "direct the concerned to end such practices". The ANRT may also instruct a company on "commitments" by them, to end anticompetitive practices in a predetermined period of time.

In January 2016, the ANRT issued an official statement saying that applications like WhatsApp, Facebook Live or Skype are "unfair competition" to telecom operators. The agency justified the VoIP blocking explaining that "the delivery of all telephone traffic to the end customer can not be provided by public telecommunications network operators, under the conditions set by the specifications of licenses which they are beneficiaries."

The anger of the Moroccan Internet community and Moroccans living abroad has been loud and clear.  Blocking VoIP sparked indignant reactions from Moroccan consumers, united under the keyword sharp #OPEUnlike.  The blocking has been denounced as  " a serious violation of freedom of Internet users. "

A majority of Moroccan Internet users have found a way around this blockage via a VPN (Virtual Private Network).  While there are rumours of a banning of VPN services, it is technologically unlikely as the more sophisticated VPN services are undetectable as VPNs.

The national magazine TelQuel asked Abedlhak Mazini,  a specialist lawyer who was part of the team that designed the law back in 1996, if the article could be interpreted as a specific ban on the use of a VPN. "I can assure you that during the drafting of Law 24-96 in 1996, we never thought we would be impacting on the Internet in Morocco".

Legal experts say that the ANRT decisions are "challengeable in court by any association that has the funds to do so."


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