Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon

Missed Call Nation

Well, it seems the rumors are true. The Lebanese Parliament will be calling a special session tomorrow to discuss banning Skype. Apparently, several other VoIP (voice-over-IP) services have already been blocked, such as Magic Jack, and if all goes according to plan, Skype and Gchat could be next. Imad Atalla breaks it down in the Daily Star:

No one has noticed, but the Lebanese government is writing yet another chapter in the endless mockery of our rights as private citizens and social entrepreneurial agents of progress and change. The state is extending censorship over the remainder of our liberties into the last frontier of freedom – the internet and its supposed neutrality.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a cost effective and sometimes free way of long-distance voice calling and video conferencing. It is also illegal in Lebanon, according to the telecoms law of 2002. Unlike Instant Messaging, VoIP allows users to speak from phone to phone via the internet. While extremely economical for average consumers and businesses, it greatly reduces revenues to the (monopolistic) landline network and, in some cases, wireless telephone companies – read Ogero, MTC, Alfa, and the Finance Ministry as the direct beneficiaries of long-distance communication revenues.

Last week the Telecommunications Ministry began implementing the short-sighted telecoms law to the letter: It activated new hardware and software equipment to enforce the ban on VoIP communications. The new equipment, which was tested in recent months, now effectively blocks internet telephony for good. (Keep reading)

Lebanon’s telecommunications sector is a national embarrassment. With the least competitive cellular market in the Middle East, the 172nd slowest internet speed in the world, and some of the most expensive calling charges anywhere, the telecommunications industry has long been used shamelessly as a coffer-stuffer for the Lebanese government.

If I’m not wrong, telecommunications alone provides the single  largest revenue stream for the government. Is it any wonder, therefore, that efforts are now being made to curtail the inroads of VoIP alternatives to exorbitant calling rates?

I have to wonder, though: what’s the angle? Even by the standards of this lousy government, doing away with services like Skype will be a deeply unpopular move. As Atalla attests in his piece for the Daily Star, the proposed ban has already enraged business people and entrepreneurs who are trying to compete in an increasingly global market. Students and other young professionals (who generally provide the energy and muscle for any political movement in Lebanon) are up in arms. And, most importantly, this has the potential to further alienate the most important constituency of all: Lebanese expatriates living abroad.

For all of those hard-working folks slaving away in hellish places like Dubai, the Congo, and Quebec, Skype is a lifeline. Rather than sinking all of your savings into expensive telephone calls to Mama, Baba, Teta, and Jido, the internet has made staying in touch with the motherland affordable. As a result, so the theory goes, more people are likely to send more money home. Now, thanks to the Telecommunications ministry, remittances are likely to take a hit.

Seen on the FPM online forum... (Translation: "Together towards the Stone Age")

But is it really the Telecommunications Ministry that is to blame? Could Charbel Nahhas (the man we thought would be Aoun’s shadow finance minister) seriously have screwed up this badly? The FPM forums are seething over this move, demanding an explanation, and even calling for Gebran Bassil to be re-instated as Telecoms chief.

The only thing I can think of as a possible explanation for this move is the notion that Nahhas is trying to circumvent the likely loss of telephone revenue once Lebanon receives fiber optic upgrades in the next couple of months. The upgrades will enhance internet speeds, making it easier for people to Skype their Teta to get her recipe for koosa mi7sheh… unless Skype is banned.

PS: I just received the draft law on information technology, which is supposedly responsible for this mess. (Warning: if you live in Lebanon, this file is 2MB, and so may take you three weeks to download.)

Update: Here are some links to further reading by other Lebanese bloggers, on this issue: Social Media Exchange, Maya Zankoul, Beirut Spring.

Update 2: Here’s a relevant comment by RedLeb:

Apparently, facts are irrelevant when whipping up a finger waving hysteria.

There is no connection between the draft law QN posted (and allegedly going to a vote today) and the VoIP ban.

As the Daily Star article points out, the VoIP ban was set by the 2002 telecom law. It also has much earlier antecedents in the fact that any unlicensed telephony operations are illegal in Lebanon. VoIP has in fact been illegal for some time now, and there are periodic clampdowns on the those that provide it locally.

That target is really unlicensed international phone call providers, not so much the home user. It’s dumb and idiotic, but telecom is the government’s cash cow, and until more enlightened financial policies are in place, we’re stuck with this ban.

The law linked to, and that is also generating hysterical reporting in the press, is concerned with electronic transactions and signatures. While everyone seems to believe it allows the government to spy on you, it actually allows the government to spy on regulated certificate authorities. And that’s a good thing.

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Discussion

58 thoughts on “Missed Call Nation

  1. OMG
    these stupid people ruling us calling themselves our governement are going to push us to suicide..
    I dunno what harm would VOIP softwares cause!!
    I hate them….

    Posted by zainab | June 14, 2010, 11:06 am
  2. This has been a travesty in the making for some time. As if blocking Skype is not bad enough the new proposal gives the government tremendous power to all internet communications and the power to silence the critics of the two gangs in control. I believe , and I have come to this conclusion reluctantly, that both groups are best portrayed as a political duopoly whose interests are identical; how to rule and disenfrachise the Lebanese citizen. Lebanon is ruled , in the words of Ralph Nader when he describes the US, by a two headed hydra,
    The following is from tella.org a Lebanese blog in Arabic :

    تحاول الدولة اللبنانية فرض قيود على مستخدمي الإنترنت تتيح لها في المستقبل القريب عبر بنوده الغامضة مراقبة كل محادثة وكل مراسلة وكل بريد إلكتروني مرسل لك أو مرسل منك، نعم، تحاول الدولة اللبنانية تضييق الخناق على الحريات الخاصة والعامة عبر إجبار مسيري الإنترنت على الإحتفاظ بمعلومات ووثائق تتيح لها الإطلاع على كل ما يجري على الشبكة العنكبوتية، تماماً كما القانون الإيراني والجزائري والتونسي والتركي، مما سيشكل بداية مفضوحة لعصر الحجب الإلكتروني والتعتيم الإعلامي، فتحت ستار التنظيم وتقديم خدمة أفضل وتوفير الجو الإلكتروني الملائم للمعاملات المصرفية، ستقول الدولة اللبنانية في المستقبل (إن مر هذا القانون) بحظر الدخول الى مواقع إلكترونية محددة ومن يمنعها؟ فقد دخلنا أصلاً في عصر قمع الحريات وتتبع النشطاء بالفعل ولو بشكل مستتر، أما عن القانون الجديد، فستشكل بنوده الفضفاضة والغامضة مدخلاً لعصر القمع الإلكتروني.

    What is difficult to understand is the fact that the Parliamentary Technology committee is controlled by Fatfat of March 14 and has Nadim Gemayel as a member. Pox on both parties. They might succeed yet in dragging us into the stone age. Again I ask where is the outrage?

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | June 14, 2010, 11:16 am
  3. Incomprehensible! Where are the marauding gunmen and the burning tires? I guess the mafia bosses of all the parties are in this outright thuggery!
    …So the sheep stay at home. Not a single party has expressed an opposition or outrage?
    Day by day I firmly believe that for most of us the civil war was a blessing…to get the hell ou of dodge and build a decent life…like QN said in hellish places like Quebec or Ontario for that matter!!

    Posted by danny | June 14, 2010, 11:58 am
  4. Ghassan,

    No surprises, eh?

    Danny,

    Precisely! What? No riots? Oh right. They only riot when there’s some kind of political motive. Right.

    And yes. I, for one, consider myself extremely lucky to have gotten out of Dodge for good, after the civil war (I left in 93) and have honestly never looked back.

    The day can’t come soon enough when Lebanon is either declared entirely dead, or some kind of revolution occurs that resets to a blank slate.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | June 14, 2010, 12:26 pm
  5. Just for the heck of it, let me defend the Lebanese government. How is it supposed to fund the telecommunications infrastructure of the country if it can’t get revenues on phone calls? Remember, skype works also within Lebanon. The way around this in the US is to charge more for broadband internet. But what if the Lebanese government wants to keep the price of broadband low so that more people can have access to it? Blocking VOIP is one way. Do you have better ideas?

    Posted by AIG | June 14, 2010, 12:42 pm
  6. AIG, China and North Korea would like to have a word with you.

    Posted by cruella | June 14, 2010, 1:19 pm
  7. AIG,

    The government needs to raise its revenues through reform. Ghassan has a pretty good article on the subject on his blog.
    Antiquated EDL (Electricite Du Liban) would be a good place to start.
    Tax reform would be good too.
    And of course, goes without saying: Minimizing or even lowering corruption would go a LONG way.

    I know you’re playing devil’s advocate, but when the government is siphoning off most of “revenues” to line the pockets of powerful people, making the argument that “oh, the poor government needs to maintain revenue at the expense of the people” is kinda weak.
    Should we also start turning over our salaries to the government, so the politicians can keep lining their pockets? Cause “how else is the government supposed to make revenue?”
    Heh.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | June 14, 2010, 1:57 pm
  8. Look into this site:

    http://speedtest.net/global.php#0

    You can see the current speed results by country, and even look into the speed of different service providers within a country / region. Neatly done, just point & click on the maps.

    BTW, Lebanon moved up to the 165th place….

    G

    Posted by G | June 14, 2010, 1:57 pm
  9. Let me add another one, on your favorite topic (Hezbollah).
    If we used 25% of the funding that HA gets from foreign sources (Iran/Syria) towards infrastructure, instead of for stockpiling weapons which end up causing much destruction to said infrastructure, we’d be in a lot better shape financially too.
    How about it, Bashar and Mahmoud? How about you give all that money you normally pump into an illegal militia to be used to finance telecoms?

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | June 14, 2010, 1:59 pm
  10. Continuation of the above comment:

    Intresting, not much difference between the Lebanease providers, all suck more or less the same.

    Syria suprisingly has one good provider, and apprantly Israel’s PARTNER network sucks (no surprise there) but the Cable network is OK.

    G

    Posted by G | June 14, 2010, 2:03 pm
  11. Yeah well … another foot into the stone age direction.

    See you soon Iranebanon … :(

    What a shame for such a beautiful country to fall so deep down …

    PS : and just because i’m a bitch … here : http://www.speedtest.net/result/847214490.png
    (yes my ping sux a bit)

    Posted by Ekios | June 14, 2010, 2:39 pm
  12. AIG,
    In the US, you can use Skype (or other VoIP venders) to make free phone calls to North American land and mobile lines. This isn’t the case in Lebanon. And broadband (if you want to call a 1Mbps DSL connection broadband) when compared to average income is fairly expensive at over 70$/month with a 5GB quota.

    Telecoms are supposed to constitute a catalyst for other sectors of the economy to grow and generate income for the government. Of course they should generate a profit themselves, but not at the expense of overall economic growth.

    Anyways the 2002 law should be abolished in itself. One can’t blame Nahhas simply because he’s implementing the law (his overall performance so far, though, has been disappointing).

    But the real danger now is with this incredibly arrogant e-transactions law.

    Posted by mas | June 14, 2010, 2:45 pm
  13. AIG

    Broadband is already very expensive, and telecom in Lebanon is more expensive than most countries around the world.

    Banning VoIP makes very little sense. It’s a bad policy that is going to bite the govt in the ass when Lebanese start relocating their businesses to places like Egypt and Jordan.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 14, 2010, 2:48 pm
  14. Qifa : cheater !! Harvard universtiy !! Hey ho !! I can’t compete ;)

    More seriously this ain’t a surprise at all, just check the minister allegiance and you got it.

    They have to control everything which get in or out. Since the voiceip is (just) a bit hard to control (for Bearded men) they used the easy way by cutting it…

    Posted by Ekios | June 14, 2010, 3:02 pm
  15. @ AIG

    – regrettably, you’ve hit on the main point: it’s a captive source of revenue for a state that surrenders many other traditional ones. i speak here as a documented taxpayer in egypt, lebanon, mexico and turkey, i.e., a grand slam jackass.

    isn’t the broader point here that the lebanese state functions just fine when, in agreed circumstances, it wants to?

    Posted by J of Chalcedon | June 14, 2010, 3:21 pm
  16. That sucks the bag! I live in Canada and Magic jack is the best….in the end – all these companies can exist together. Monopolies never worked and we expanded to include magic jack and other telephone companies.

    learn from others mistakes – VOIP has a place in all societies.

    Posted by Sandra | June 14, 2010, 3:28 pm
  17. I talked to some deputies today in Lebanon and nobody knew about the law, and whoever knew about it they never read it. We met with three deputies and explained the law to them and of course they didn’t understand a lot, but they agree not to vote for it or at least fight it under the table since their party took the decision to vote for it. One of the deputies was very excited and wants to make a press release tomorrow morning about this law and how bad it is. I received/called by phone couple of deputies and they want to vote against it. The voting will be in 12h, we’ll see about that. I want also to share with you that I received an sms from a friend who knows pm harriri inside stories, telling me that president Harriri won’t vote on this law also.
    Unfortunately the deputies are totally offline and the only way to lobbying is actually to make people call them and explain the law and ask them to vote negatively.

    Keep your finger crossed for tomorrow

    Best,
    Mohamad Najem

    Posted by @MoNajem | June 14, 2010, 4:50 pm
  18. I’ll see your download speed and raise ya…

    On a more serious note, I was heading down to Beirut this summer to open offices for an offshore operation. If Skype is truly blocked, thats a whole lot of jobs that just went down the can….

    Posted by notelling | June 14, 2010, 5:03 pm
  19. G,
    Thanks for the world list of uploads downloads.
    So what are we complaining about? Zimbabwe, Zanbia, Haiti and Afghanistan have slower downloading speeds :-)

    BTW, I don’t know how many have noticed the irony due to the fact that Minister Mitri was talking today at the AUB about the “modernization challenge”. Are these guys totally clueless. Speaking about the qualifications of many of the ministers I got a big laugh of the fact that Minister Ria Al Hassan promotes her Awards in her resume at the Ministry’s web site. She is not ashamed to mention only two awards: National Honor Society of Business and a deans list in her undergraduate school. How petty can you get to mention such trivial details on the resume of a minister. The reason , by the way is simple, she has no other accomplishments. She has not written a research paper or published a thing, nada.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | June 14, 2010, 5:14 pm
  20. “…We met with three deputies and explained the law to them and of course they didn’t understand a lot…”

    “…Unfortunately the deputies are totally offline and the only way to lobbying is actually to make people call them and explain the law and ask them to vote negatively…”

    This just about sums it up.

    If the lawmakers of the land need ordinary citizens to explain the laws to them, well….enough said.
    And the fact that they’re “offline”…well, again, enough said.

    Stone Age! HERE WE COME! *raises flag and charges forward blindly, much like fellow compatriots are prone to doing over the slightest slogan*

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | June 14, 2010, 5:47 pm
  21. Well, if that’s comforting. The situation in Israel(speed) is not much better. :-)

    Posted by idit | June 14, 2010, 5:56 pm
  22. Hey, we could save on the 300 army generals no? We, in fact, have as much army generals as the US! Go figure!

    Posted by rm | June 14, 2010, 6:20 pm
  23. I sure hope that this measure does not pass but if it does then I predict that it will back fire . It looks that very few if any on that Parliamentary committee are aware of the technological alternatives of which there are two: VPN for the technologically savvy and call back services for the rest of us. Where is Naila Tueini in all of this, she is a member of the telecommunications committee.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | June 14, 2010, 6:24 pm
  24. This is just the latest example that shows the goons in Parliament to be corporate mafia thugs.

    Posted by Abu Guerrilla | June 14, 2010, 6:28 pm
  25. Ghassan,

    Naila got elected! Does she have to work too? :D
    She’s taking care of the baby for heaven’s sakes!
    …Also, you missed Afghanistan and Madagascar…:D

    Posted by danny | June 14, 2010, 6:32 pm
  26. For 5$ one can talk for 55 minutes non-stop to Lebanon. Here’s an excellent site for good quality food for those who cannot afford the 5$:

    http://www.tasteofbeirut.com/

    Posted by Jihad | June 14, 2010, 10:36 pm
  27. Apparently, facts are irrelevant when whipping up a finger waving hysteria.

    There is no connection between the draft law QN posted (and allegedly going to a vote today) and the VoIP ban.

    As the Daily Star article points out, the VoIP ban was set by the 2002 telecom law. It also has much earlier antecedents in the fact that any unlicensed telephony operations are illegal in Lebanon. VoIP has in fact been illegal for some time now, and there are periodic clampdowns on the those that provide it locally.

    That target is really unlicensed international phone call providers, not so much the home user. It’s dumb and idiotic, but telecom is the government’s cash cow, and until more enlightened financial policies are in place, we’re stuck with this ban.

    The law linked to, and that is also generating hysterical reporting in the press, is concerned with electronic transactions and signatures. While everyone seems to believe it allows the government to spy on you, it actually allows the government to spy on regulated certificate authorities. And that’s a good thing.

    So, to recap:
    1. The VoIP ban is an old law. You want to repeal it, not prevent it from going into effect.
    2. The current law regulates e-transactions. It won’t require a license to get a Hotmail account.
    3. If you’re running a blog, read draft laws you post onto it before summarising their contents ;)

    Posted by RedLeb | June 15, 2010, 2:50 am
  28. Ironically considering the post topic before this one, todays parliamentary session aims to discuss giving Palestinians the right to work and own property

    Posted by mo | June 15, 2010, 5:00 am
  29. Is it time that we moved towards creating a pirate party of our own?

    Posted by Melvin Gray | June 15, 2010, 5:17 am
  30. Red Leb,
    Technically you are right that the law blocking VOIP was passed in 2002 but what is important is that it was never implemented which effectively renders it void. The Lebanese authorities have as of over a week blocked all VOIP which is very much a reason for an outcry by the general public whose welfare is supposedly to be promoted by the government.
    As for your interpretation about the reasonablness of the new e transactions law, I beg to differ. This law is as innocent as the Patriot Act was in the US .We need to modify this law in order to protect the rights of the public without giving in advance a carte blanche to the government to act whenevr it chooses and in practically any manner. This law sets a dangerous precedent if passed as is and there is absolutely no rationale for blocking VOIP. The revenue argument must be totally rejected otherwise we can ban email on the grouds that it reduces sales of stamps and even use of telephones.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | June 15, 2010, 6:33 am
  31. RedLeb

    I pointedly said that “I JUST received” the law which is “SUPPOSEDLY” responsible for this mess, so I don’t claim to have been summarizing it. :)

    The facts are that even though the law against VoIP has been in effect since 2002, they’ve only just started enforcing it. What’s more, they ARE targeting home users. How do you explain the fact that I can’t call my relatives on Magic Jack anymore?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 15, 2010, 6:55 am
  32. @ AIG :
    your making me laugh so hard…
    man how do u consider broadband cost as low in lebanon.. man we pay for the downloads in GB!! where are u living?!

    Posted by Elio | June 15, 2010, 7:40 am
  33. Ghassan Karam, Hear, Hear

    Posted by Caustic | June 15, 2010, 7:44 am
  34. Gassan,
    Let’s first of all disconnect the two issues: VoIP and the new e-transactions law. I sense people like to link the two issues because VoIP has a more immediate effect to the average person. Let me restate: the e-transactions law makes no mention of VoIP.

    VoIP bans have been sporadically implemented over the past decades, only to be relaxed after numerous complaints. Further, it is quite hard to maintain the ban for technical reasons. You can ban the ports being used, but the service providers can simply switch to different ports.

    I am totally against blocking VoIP. I am not defending it. I am just pointing out it is part of a whole system of telecom taxes we are subjected, including high international call rates and high mobile phone rates.

    With regards to the other, separate issue, can you point out what you find so offensive about the new e-transactions law? There are many critiques to be made against it, but comparing it to the ‘Patriot Act’ seems hyperbolic.

    Posted by RedLeb | June 15, 2010, 8:37 am
  35. QN,
    The VoIP ban has been intermittently applied over the past decade. It is very hard to maintain for prolonged periods because technical minded users can use non-standard ports and circumvent the ban.

    And I wasn’t clear about ‘not targeting home users': The ban is not AIMED at home users, but it definitely affects them since Ogero ordered a total block on all ports and was not selective about it. But, historically, once it has disrupted the operations of the unlicensed call operators, it starts removing the ban selectively. I am expecting a few months outage before sporadic service is resumed.

    I am not trying to belittle the ban or defend it in any way. I’m just trying to make you guys more accurate in your outrage :)

    Posted by RedLeb | June 15, 2010, 8:44 am
  36. Fair enough.

    Maybe you should write an op-ed for the Daily Star about why the e-transactions law is a good thing.

    Or better yet, write it for qifanabki.com! :)

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 15, 2010, 9:11 am
  37. Ghassan, traffic laws are hardly implemented, that doesn’t make them void :)
    And they had targeted home users before, if anybody remembers Net2Phone.

    RedLeb, the e-transactions law is dangerous because it establishes a totally independent authority whose responsibilities are described in such a vague manner as to allow it to actually gain access to subscribers’ private information from any “service provider”. The glossary is so vague on what that means that it could be anybody (from ISPs to private companies to just regular users).
    For example, check out article 82.

    Posted by mas | June 15, 2010, 9:14 am
  38. RedLeb,

    Our problem with such laws are multi faceted, but briefly I will answer two points:
    1- The people that are doing unlicensed calls operations are very well known, or at least can be. They are providing a “public” service after all, how can they hide? However they are probably well protected by some powers, and the solution to stop them is to harm all the VOIP users in the country? I found this ridiculous.

    2. I do not think anybody opposes the regulation of electronic transactions as a principle, but it strike me that they are taking this issue very lightly. Who drafted these laws? what was the contributions of universities, public sector, NGOs, etc..

    Posted by Caustic | June 15, 2010, 9:35 am
  39. Caustic, your first point has nothing to do with the e-transactions law. No one disagrees with you on the point you are making that the 2002 VoIP-banning law is ridiculous.

    Posted by mas | June 15, 2010, 9:52 am
  40. mas,
    I do agree the language of the law can be tightened up to prevent abuse and over-reaching. But I do think the current language allows one to contest arbitrary invasions of privacy in court, and most likely win. The intent of the law is not to allow complete access to any ‘service provider’, but to any service provider of services under the commission’s scope, i.e. electronic signatures.

    Let me try to do a quick geek lecture:
    A certificate is an electronic signature that provides authentication. It attests that the certificate is in fact accurate and owned by the name contained within the certificate itself.

    The reason one may trust the certificate itself is because it is electronically signed by a Certificate Authority. This is a known trusted party that signs other people’s certificates with its own certificate. All certificates, and all transactions authenticated by them, hinge on the validity of the Certificate Authority’s certificate.

    The way to ensure this validity, as adopted by every country on the globe, is audits and surprise inspections of the Certificate Authority itself. The public need to ensure that:
    1. The Certificate Authority’s certificate’s database is properly protected and secure.
    2. The Certificate Authority’s employees cannot duplicate, forge, or modify certificates.
    3. The Certificate Authority is not issuing certificates to third-parties with other people’s name on them.

    From my reading of the law, that is the law’s intent: to audit Certificate Authorities. The wording can stand some clarifications to eliminate grey areas. Maybe the wording is intentionally murky to allow some over-reach. But it is not the law’s obvious intent to censor speech, spy on you, or violate your privacy.

    Now will everyone stop making me defend the government. It’s making me nauseous.

    Posted by RedLeb | June 15, 2010, 9:56 am
  41. A blanket ban on VOIP just pisses off users. The government would do better to simply get some agents out on the streets and look for these fairly obvious illegal call centers that all the foreign workers seem to crowd around. But then again, it is a case of laziness and this is the biggest problem with our people. A general laziness and inaction unless prodded by family/political/religious obligations.

    Posted by JimRamK | June 15, 2010, 10:09 am
  42. mas #42
    I knew that someone was going to object to the word “void” and you are right ; it is not the best choice. But as you will agree the most important aspect of a law is enforcement. If a law is imposible to enforce or has not been enforced on purpose then it is as if it does not exist. Opposition to an unjust law mounts considerably if it is to be enforced. I guess that my short cut very early in the morning did not work:-)

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | June 15, 2010, 10:13 am
  43. My concerns with the e Transactions lawwere best sumarised by mas #41 and so instead of repeating the concern allow me to share with you a quote based on Al Akhbars analysis in addition to the position of MP mukhaiber that combined with the public complaints have forced the vote to be potponed for one month.

    “MP Ghassan Moukheiber opposed the formation of the authority because he considered it a legal authority with the right to view any document or have unlimited power in controlling online services.

    The daily Al-Akhbar reported that it is necessary to approve a law that would organize activity over the internet in Lebanon.

    It added however, that if it were approved then the Lebanese will be living in what would feel like a security state that would interfere in the smallest detail of their personal lives.

    The daily said that despite efforts to make the law comply with reforms needed in electronic banking, the real “catastrophe” in it becomes clear from Article 69 onwards.”

    The above is essentially identical with the concerns that were highlighted yesterday by many on this blog as well as others.

    It is not an exageration to say that I am elated. For one of the few times in my life we are witnessing Lebanese elected officials respond to concerns of the electorate. I sure hope that these miracles never end:-)

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | June 15, 2010, 10:51 am
  44. Ghassan,
    The Al-Akhbar article is very inaccurate and confused. It is obvious that the reporter does not know the true problems with the law. She claims it would allow the government to “obtain a person’s private Facebook information”, which it does not.

    There are several comments on the article at Al Akhbar’s website that point out the flaws and distortions in the article. They attempt to explain how the law is actually designed to provide recourse for the end user when their privacy and confidentiality is violated by private enterprises like Facebook.

    For a reasoned critique of the law, please see http://www.slideshare.net/gdeek/private-sector-comments-on-ict-law-draft-4440370

    The url above suggests modifications to the law’s text that prevent over-reach and clarify the scope of company audits. It is a much more sober approach to the issue than Al Akhabr’s and Naharnet’s hand wringing hysteria. Both those newspaper’s reporters have such little understanding of the technical issues involved, it was like watching Independence Day all over again.

    Posted by RedLeb | June 15, 2010, 11:10 am
  45. Redleb @40

    “…As the Daily Star article points out, the VoIP ban was set by the 2002 telecom law. It also has much earlier antecedents in the fact that any unlicensed telephony operations are illegal in Lebanon. VoIP has in fact been illegal for some time now, and there are periodic clampdowns on the those that provide it locally…”

    Wait! Wait! Stop everything! “unlicensed telephony operations are illegal in Lebanon”???
    Does Hezbollah know about this?
    Didn’t they blow up Beirut last time anyone tried to clamp down on their “unlicensed telephony operation”?

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | June 15, 2010, 12:44 pm
  46. Bad Vilbel,
    Congratulations, you get the Twinkie.
    ‘Unlicensed telephony operations’ was indeed the activity which the Saniora government considered criminal and subject to prosecution.

    The specific clause was ‘misappropriation of public revenues’. That is, Hizabllah was accused of running unlicensed call centres that bypassed the Ogero monopoly and hence deprived the state of revenues.

    Posted by RedLeb | June 15, 2010, 1:01 pm
  47. My post was in the “sarcasm” department.

    But clearly, running a parallel phone network would be considered illegal by any standard. And we saw how well that turned out.

    My point here being: I expect the Lebanese population to burn Beirut to the ground again over this VoIP thing….
    Either that, or they really are so stupid as to only burn their own city down when the orders come from the Iranian Embassy bunker….
    Wait. Don’t answer that…

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | June 15, 2010, 1:09 pm
  48. And as pointed out above…Apparently the parliament is looking into granting Palestinians certain rights.
    I wonder if they’ve been reading QN’s blog…

    Ironically (or sadly), it ends up back at sectarian lines: Hezb and Jumblatt voted for the bill. FPM, LF and Kataeb against.
    Apparently, when it comes to sectarianism, the FPM and LF/Kataeb forget all about their animosities alleged “secularism” (Right, General?) and fall back on the default siege mentality.
    To coin an old phrase: “Think of the CHILDREN!” (or in this case “But! Think of the Maronites! The poor Maronites!”)

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | June 15, 2010, 1:15 pm
  49. How did the Future movement MPs vote? Did they abstain?

    Atef Majdalani said that the law was “vague”… I assume that means that they either abstained or voted against it.

    How ironic is it that the Sunnis (who are accused of favoring tawteen) are not voting to support Palestinian rights, while the Shiites (who are thought to be against tawteen) are voting with Jumblatt?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 15, 2010, 1:38 pm
  50. The story was pretty vague on who voted for what. It was within the context of Jumblatt calling the “rightists” stupid (gotta agree with him on that one).

    Bottom line is, all the rhetoric and propaganda about tawteen this and that, and all the (clearly faulty) logic and arguments that we hear from the talking heads (and in our own discussions) are revealed, once again, to be nothing but hypocritical lies. When push comes to shove, it always ends up being about sect. Not about Israel, or the right of return, or any of those alleged arguments.
    The hypocrisy of the FPM is particularly glaring here. The supposedly “secular” party, that trumpets “human rights” and the Palestinian cause, and whatnot ends up banding with the LF and Kataeb. Would be hilariously funny if it wasn’t so pathetically sad and transparent.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | June 15, 2010, 1:59 pm
  51. QN #53,
    Thereis an easy way to align the votes with the sectarian blocs. If you go back to the archives you can find out that on a paersonal level the vote played exactly as the current dynamics would dictate. Hezbollah could not go to war for the sake of Palestine and yet deny the Palestinian refugees their basic human rightsand so they had no choice but to support and even lead on this position. I believe that they will not go the extramile/inch:-) to support tawteen.

    The Sunnis on the other hand will gain from the tawteen but are not in a position to do so because of their current commitment to their Christian allies. Their position is a purely calculated one on a Cost Benefit analysis basis. As for the Christians let us just say that they are misguided.

    I would hope that enough votes will be able to make the distinction between human rights and tawteen so as to wipe this shameful blot off the Lebanese society once and for all.

    ( It is interesting how a feudal lord can claim to be progressive. I guess anyhthing to the left of fascism has a shot at being progressive:-))

    Posted by ghassan Karam | June 15, 2010, 3:06 pm
  52. RedLeb,
    Thanks for the pointers and clarifications. The problem isn’t necessarily with having a law on electronic certifications. I hope that the postponement of the vote allows for some rewordings to be inserted. I still don’t get why the authority should be granted from such an independent status. It has raised some suspicions.
    I can imagine sticking up for the government was an excruciating experience..!

    Posted by mas | June 15, 2010, 4:00 pm
  53. I am an expatriate who came back to Lebanon to live a better life. Would it not be better for the government to concentrate on the shortages of electricity and water, AND, enforce driving laws that enable my family and I to take a drive without worrying about the idiots that disobey all laws.
    We are desperately trying to enlighten peoples in other countries of our desire and willingness to join the 21st century. This move will indeed change my plans for the future and wonder what idiotic law will they pass next.

    Posted by Emil Musallam | June 16, 2010, 9:59 am
  54. Quick follow up on the question above, regarding how the Mustaqbal MPs voted on the proposal to grant Palestinians civil rights.

    Sadly. The answer is: Along sectarian lines.

    (From Naharnet):
    …During a parliamentary session on Tuesday, MPs from the Phalange, Lebanese Forces, the Free Patriotic Movement and some Christian al-Mustaqbal lawmakers opposed Jumblat’s proposal to give civil rights to Palestinians. On the other hand, al-Mustaqbal’s Muslim MPs, Hizbullah, Amal and Jumblat’s Democratic Gathering pushed for the adoption of the proposal…

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | June 16, 2010, 12:31 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Welcome | Project on Middle East Democracy - June 14, 2010

  2. Pingback: Alternatives to Skype in Lebanon « Qifa Nabki | A Lebanese Political Blog - June 14, 2010

  3. Pingback: Global Voices in English » Lebanon: Outrage over Blocking of VoIP - June 15, 2010

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