Bahrain to study restrictions on VoIP telecoms services

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Bahrain is to study whether to restrict Internet-based telecom services, the communications minister of the Arab state told Reuters, although no final decision was imminent.

The country’s Minister of State for Communications said the government did not monitor conventional telecommunications and a decision to study the use of VoIP was motivated by a variety of risks posed by the technology.

“There are examples of VoIP technology being used for pornography, which naturally clashes with our values in the kingdom,” said the minister, Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed al-Khalifa. “We also would not want technology being used to subvert state security, or be used in fraudulent enterprises like phishing and identity theft.”

Since the Arab Spring uprisings, several Gulf governments have pushed for greater oversight and control of VoIP and other hard-to-trace communication tools such as BlackBerry Messenger.

Bahrain’s government said last week it may introduce new legislation to govern VoIP to “ensure that the appropriate public policies and regulation are in place.”

Asked by email when a decision was likely to be made on whether to restrict VoIP in Bahrain, Sheikh Fawaz replied: “We are studying this issue but don't have a timeline yet, nor are we close to considering a ban or restriction on the use of VoIP technology.”

VoIP allows free internet-to-internet phone calls and messaging, while tariffs for internet-to-mobile or landline phones are dramatically cheaper than by conventional means.

For that reason, commercial concerns may be a factor in recent government scrutiny of these services. All 15 Gulf telecom operators are part-owned by state-linked institutions to varying degrees.

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