Stop This Law - Internet Regulation, Surveillance, and VOIP in Lebanon

Global Voices Online and the Social Media Exchange (SMEX) report that Lebanese activists organizing under the slogan Stop The Vote have managed to postpone parliamentary voting for one month (starting June 15) on what they see as a disturbing e-Transactions law. This law, which they see as "[threatening] to create a more restrictive or at least more monitored online environment in Lebanon" has a few troubling articles.

The biggest issue at stake is the creation of the ESSA (the Electronic Signatures & Services Authority) and the disproportional power provided it to moniter and discipline ISPs, as well as giving the ESSA the right to access any type of electronic information transmitted through licensed ISP networks - all without judicial oversight. Amongst other things, this raises serious questions about user privacy, particularly related to, in this case, state surveillance. In brief, the law would allow the ESSA to:

  • provide licenses to ISPs to provide service (which would now be mandatory - Article 92)
  • have "moral, financial and administrative independence" (Article 70)
  • be the regulatory body to enforse this act - can carry out inspections (financial, electonric, and administrative) of computer systems or tools related to operations (of providing internet access) including private data and information (Articles 82, 84)
  • gain access to any documents (of any media type) from any licensed ISP (Article 84)
  • punish ISPs for voilating the terms of the licenses by, in the most extreme case, cancelling the license (Article 87)

A more complete list of the contested articles is found here, or read the complete Arabic version of the law.

Bloggers like Qifa Nabki speculate that this law will also limit user's abilities to use VOIP (voice over Internet protocol - essentially video/audio chatting online), and that it came into being precisely because telecom companies see VOIP services such as Skype as a major business threat. Maya Zankoul (in collaboration with Nabki) asks us to consider the social ramifications in her webcomic: could this be the end of long-distance relationships in Lebanon?

The conversation continues on Facebook and Twitter at #stopthislaw, a collection of news coverage can be found on Delicious.