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Somalia:Internet Filtering in a Failed State-Hormuud Telecom

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Sunday April 26, 2020 - 04:27:01 in Latest News by Super Admin
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    Somalia:Internet Filtering in a Failed State-Hormuud Telecom

    The Case of Netsweeper in Somalia Key findings • Internet censorship products made by Canada-based Netsweeper have been identified on the networks of three Somalia-based Internet Service Providers (ISPs). • Testing has demonstrated tha

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The Case of Netsweeper in Somalia Key findings • Internet censorship products made by Canada-based Netsweeper have been identified on the networks of three Somalia-based Internet Service Providers (ISPs). • Testing has demonstrated that the Netsweeper installation on the network of the ISP Hormuud Telecom is being used to filter content. • The history of contested political authority and influence of a radical insurgency within Somalia raises questions about whether Netsweeper undertook due diligence before providing its filtering technology to the ISPs and telecom providers in the country.
The finding of Netsweeper products in Somalia—a war-torn country and one of the world’s most "failed states”—follows Citizen Lab prior reports finding Netsweeper products in United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Qatar, Kuwait, and Pakistan, and demonstrates a clear track record on behalf of Netsweeper of actively pursuing business opportunities for country-level filtering of countries with questionable human rights and governance practices.
Introduction
In this report, we discuss the presence of technology provided by Netsweeper—a Canada-based company that develops web filtering solutions—on the networks of three Somalia-based ISPs. We also discuss the implications of our findings in relation to human rights standards, corporate social responsibility, and international sanctions against Somalia. Internet access in Somalia is extremely limited. The country’s low penetration rate can be ascribed to political volatility and economic stagnation in the context of over two decades of near continuous conflict. Despite limited connectivity, Internet growth is still predicted to increase in the future, and several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operate in the country.
This report is a continuation of Citizen Lab’s research investigating and analyzing Internet filtering and surveillance practices worldwide. It aims to inform public policy, advocacy work, and research in this field.
Prior research on use of commercial filtering technologies in problem countries
The Citizen Lab has performed extensive research on the presence of commercial filtering technologies across the globe. In 2013, Citizen Lab researchers discovered the presence of devices manufactured by Blue Coat Systems on public networks in 83 countries, including Iran and Sudan.1 Blue Coat Systems is a California-based company that produces networking appliances capable of website filtering and deep packet inspection.2 As part of the OpenNet Initiative,3 the Citizen Lab identified filtering products developed by the Canada-based company Netsweeper operating on ISPs in several Middle Eastern countries, including Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Yemen, and Kuwait. 4 Two years later, the Citizen Lab found Netsweeper filtering products on Pakistani ISPs.5 The Citizen Lab has performed similar research on SmartFilter—an American-made filtering product—and documented its presence in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.6 The Citizen Lab also conducts research on FinFisher—a line of surveillance technology sold by the UK-based Gamma Group—and has documented the presence of FinFisher command-and-control servers in 36 countries across the world.7
Background about Somalia
Somalia has undergone tremendous civil strife and instability since the overthrow of President Siad Barre in 1991. Rival warlords and insurgent groups have competed for power since that time. Famine beset Somalia in 1992 and from 2010-2012. Since 2020, Somalia has faced a growing insurgency by Islamist groups such as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) and al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-affiliated organization that branched out from the ICU. Piracy off the shores of Somalia has become a significant regional threat, with the costs of pirate attacks on international maritime trade in 2011 estimated to be between USD 6.6 to 6.9 billion.8
After the fall of the Barre regime, centralized political control effectively collapsed and a number of regions claimed autonomy from Somalia. Somaliland, Somalia’s northernmost region bordering Djibouti and Ethiopia, declared itself a sovereign state in 1991. While the international community has yet to officially recognize its political autonomy, Somaliland has in effect been an independently governed state for over two decades. Mogadishu serves as the capital of the internationally recognized government of Somalia, the Federal Government of Somalia, which is comprised of an executive branch and parliament. Other regions in Somalia include Puntland, which declared autonomy in 1998 but still exists within the framework of the Somali federal system.
Internet in Somalia
Internet access in Somalia is limited. According to an estimate by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Somalia’s Internet penetration rate was 1.38 percent in 2012, ranking Somalia among the countries with the lowest Internet penetration in the world.9 As of 2005, Balancing Act reported that 22 established ISPs existed in the country.10
The lack of a central government has permitted a wide range of businesses to operate in the country, free from taxes or service obligations that might otherwise impede growth.11 However, the fragile political and security situation in Somalia limits the activities of many of its ISPs. Somali ISPs Somtel and Telesom, for example, operate in Somaliland.12 Due to widespread piracy off Somalia’s coastlines, most Somalis must rely on satellite rather than undersea cables to connect to the Internet globally.13 Fear of piracy has deterred cable-laying ships from operating in Somalia’s waters, thereby impeding both the development and maintenance of undersea cables.14 The East African Marine Cable (TEAMS), for example, has been diverted an extra 200 kilometres from Somalia’s coastline.15 The largest Mogadishu-based telecommunications companies—Nationlink, Hormuud, and Olympic—have stationed their equipment centers in Mogadishu’s Bakara market, an area that has long been the site of violent struggle between the government and al-Shabaab insurgents. In 2011, Hormuud’s headquarters was repeatedly hit by artillery during conflict between Al-Shabaab fighters and government forces, destroying equipment and killing staff.16
At-home connectivity is expensive and remains unaffordable for most Somalis. Estimates in 2012 indicated that service costs for home Internet range from USD 30-600 per month depending on speed and level of service.17 A report by the Somali Telecommunications Association (STA) in 2006 indicated that Somalia had 234 cyber cafes growing at a rate of more than 15 per cent every year.18 Service in Internet cafes is often slow, with speeds rarely exceeding 100 kb/s.
19 Despite these challenges, there are indications that Somalia’s Internet infrastructure will improve in the near future. In 2013, satellite provider O3b Networks Ltd. signed a deal with Somtel to provide connectivity through fiber optic cables as well as satellites.
20 Liquid Telecom, a Mauritius-based telecommunications provider, announced in November 2013 that it will also partner with Hormuud to build Somalia’s first terrestrial fibre-optic cable to be built across the border with Kenya.
21 Conversely, Somalia has a robust cellular infrastructure. Several factors, including the regulatory void exploited by the telecom companies, the competing armed factions and tribal groups’ heavy reliance on telecommunications infrastructure to operate their enterprises, and the telecommunications-dependent informal banking system, Hawala, used primarily by the Somali diaspora in Europe and North America to send remittances, have contributed to the thriving cellular communications market. Somalia also has an efficient mobile banking system known as ZAAD, that enables users to transfer funds, make purchase, and pay bills.
22 In August 2012, media stories reported that Djibouti is able to restrict Internet communication in Somaliland, as the company which provides upstream Internet and telecommunications services to Telesom and Somtel is headquartered in Djibouti. A report from Somali news website Sunatimes.com reported that the government of Djibouti ordered Telesom to block websites.23 Citizen Lab is not able to verify whether these websites have indeed been blocked. However, technical investigation shows that as Telesom’s sole transit provider, Djibouti Telecom (AS30990) would be able to exert this leverage to influence blocking in Telesom (AS37473)’s network.
Hormuud Telecom Blocked Websites of, TimesofIsrael.com, Canadafreepress.com, Sunatimes.com, intelligencebriefs.com, Waagacusub.com, hch24.com, PJMedia.com,  trulytimes.com and Judicialwatch.org.
Legal and regulatory frameworks
Somalia’s weak central government and continuous state of instability has hindered the development of strong legal frameworks. The Fund for Peace has ranked Somalia number one on its failed state index consistently from 2008 to 2013.24 While an internationally recognized federal government has existed since 2012, tensions between the central government and the self-declared independent state of Somaliland continue to exist.25 The government’s control of the country often does not extend beyond Mogadishu, and continuous poverty, widespread corruption, and a constant state of insecurity due to conflict with Islamist insurgents and other factions contribute to the state’s failure to effectively govern Somalia.26 The actual implementation of laws, regulations, and other statutes are therefore severely constrained in such a politically, economically, and socially fragile environment.
Somalia adopted a new constitution in August 2012 during a meeting of its National Constituent Assembly. Articles 16 and 18 of Somalia’s Provisional Constitution call for Freedom of Association and Freedom of Expression and Opinions, respectively. Article 18 specifically states that "Freedom of expression includes freedom of speech, and freedom of the media, including all forms of electronic and web-based media.” Despite these guarantees, Reporters Without Borders reported that 18 members of the media were killed in 2012, and there have been at least two examples of government action against protesters in the past year.
27 Telecommunications and media in Somalia are governed by the Somali Media Law of 2007, which guarantees "freedom of expression and ideas” and specifically outlaws censorship, stating that "The media cannot be censored and cannot be compelled to publicize information complementary neither to the government nor to the opposition.”28 However, Article 12 of the Media Law states that media outlets should "avoid broadcasting and disseminating materials jeopardizing the Islamic religion and the Somali traditional ethics, unity of Somali people and sovereignty the [sic] Somali republic,” including information judged to be "false,” "contrary to the religious confession and the Islamic doctrine,” or "pornographic.” Article 16 mandates against disseminating "fictitious information and denouncement contrary to the dignity of the Somali citizen, person, organization, business entity, or the state.”
Under the Somali Media Law, the government must appoint a National Media Council (NMC) comprised of 10 members from private media and five from public media. The NMC has regulatory oversight of media outlets.
Somaliland and Puntland are governed by separate laws due to their semi-autonomous status. Media in Somaliland is governed by the Press Law of 2004, though as of 2011 stakeholders from government and media had drafted and were attempting to pass a new Law on Media & Access to Information as well as a Broadcasting Law. None of Somalia’s communications laws guarantee access to information.
As of 2012, the Council of Ministers of the Transitional Federal Government had adopted the Communications Act of 2012, a draft law proposed by the Minister of Information, Posts, and Telecommunications.29 The draft law would create the National Communications Commission (NCC), a new and independent regulatory body with jurisdiction over broadcast media and telecommunications. The NCC would reportedly be transparent, accountable, and legally bound to respect the rights of citizens to freedom of expression.
Radical groups’ threat to telecommunications companies in Somalia
In January 2014, the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group issued a directive prohibiting companies from providing Internet services, and gave them fifteen days to stop the mobile and fiber optic services.30 The group warned that those who do not comply will be considered as "working with the enemy” and will be dealt with according to Islamic law. Later that month, media reports said militants loyal to al-Shabaab began enforcing the ban in areas under their control, and that the militants were checking mobile phones for Internet connections.31 Reports also said that all telecommunications companies in al-Shabaab-controlled regions discontinued providing Internet services on cell phones.32 Citizens reported that telecommunications company Hormuud shut down its data service in areas under militant control.33 The mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamud Ahmed Nur Tarsan, said militant groups forced Hormuud to shut down Internet service by threatening to kill the company’s staff and senior officials in the areas controlled by al-Shabaab.
34 The Minister of Interior and National Security of Somalia, Abdikarim Hussein Guled, condemned the al-Shabaab Internet ban, and called on the telecommunications companies to resist any coercion.35 He also said, "The Somali Government will work with all telecommunications companies and ensure that they are free to provide Internet and other related communications services to our citizens. While the government provides all the necessary assistance to protect the public, we also caution them not to cooperate and work with terrorist groups or bow to threats. We have a responsibility to protect our citizens against all threats.” The minister also said, "Our constitution guarantees freedom of expression and every citizen has the right to access information without fear.” 36 Despite al-Shabaab’s Internet ban, the organization has an active presence online. Their Twitter feed remained active until the social media site banned al-Shabaab’s presence after they tweeted their support for the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi that killed 72 people.37 Their threat against Internet providers was posted on their Facebook page.
38 -A January 2014 Gulf News article described the telecommunications operators in Somalia as pirates of airwaves, and said that they are responsible for "bedevilling successive governments” by means of tax avoidance, and preventing the current fragile government from cutting off communications to terror-linked militias.39 "By negotiating with foreign companies to charge above the usual rates and to put money collected into overseas funds, these "companies” avoid tax—and have sufficient clout to offer deals to favoured factions, or fund groups they believe will deliver a government suited to their economic or ideological aims,” the article said. The article also said the companies create wealth by "persuading other telcos worldwide to clip the ticket for them,” and that they became "wealthy enough to avoid attempts by government and the regulatory International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to rein them in.”
Internet Filtering in Somalia
Netsweeper Installation Identification Method
Citizen Lab researchers used the computer search engine Shodan 40 to scan Somali networks for evidence of installed Internet filtering devices.41 In November 2013, these Shodan searches found the commercial filtering technology Netsweeper active on three IP addresses on networks in Somalia and Somaliland. This finding was followed up with testing for Internet filtering using software developed by Citizen Lab, which tests the accessibility of a list of sensitive URLs. The test runs were conducted in December 2013.
Netsweeper on Hormuud Telecom Somalia Inc
By Masashi Crete-Nishihata, Jakub Dalek, Adam Senft, Saad Omar Khan, Matthew Carrieri, Ron Deibert, and Helmi Noman 




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