“Security considerations” are being cited as reasons behind new regulations which could put an end to the use of popular services such as Skype, WhatsApp, Viber and Tango in Bahrain.
Newspapers quoted Minister of State for Communication Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa as saying new regulations were being introduced for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications, which have become popular across the Gulf region, with millions of users exchanging news, views, photographs, and trivial jokes daily, as well as making free calls and connecting with friends and family.
Al Khalifa is quoted as saying:
The measures are meant to guarantee there is no clash with traditions and customs in addition to security considerations. They are part of the efforts exerted by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to ensure the existence of regulations that preserve the rights of operators and that there is no abuse of communication applications.”
He said the move was to protect the country's communication sector, adding that a study showed that “100,000 people in Bahrain had used VoIP applications in four days.”
Bahrain seems to be taking the cue from Saudi Arabia, which has already banned the use of Viber in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia blocked the instant messaging application on June 5, 2013, after it threatened to block encrypted communication software, unless it was allowed to spy on users. Other services the Saudi authorities are threatening to block include Skype and mobile messaging service WhatsApp.
According to @Comms_BH, a verified Twitter account, which describes itself as the official account of the Ministry of State for Communications:
@CommsBH: Minister: MoSC is conducting a research study for the purpose of setting up controls over the usage of (VoIP) technology. #Bahrain
@CommsBH: The procedures comes in order to prevent any breaching of observable moral values and traditions as well as for security considerations.
@CommsBH: Legislations and regulations aim to ensure the protection of data and boost the security of international calls and telecom networks.
Online, netizens expressed dismay at the news.
@albosta: Shall we kiss free VOiP goodbye #bahrain #skype #asterisk #previousTweet #viber
And Rasha Yousif adds:
@RshRsho: If @Comms_BH blocks viber, tango or Skype I’m burning tires #Bahrain
Burning tyres and blocking roads is a popular sign of protest in restive Bahrain, which has been witnessing almost daily protests since February 14, 2011.
On March 12, the World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, Reporters Without Borders named Bahrain as one of five state Enemies of the Internet – “spy states that conduct systematic online surveillance that results in serious human rights violations.” The other four are Syria, China, Iran and Vietnam.