In Egypt, The Autocracy Co-Opts Technology Too

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The New York Times is reporting that Egyptian authorities have forced one of the country’s cellular providers to send out mass text messages in support of the Mubarak regime.

The cellphone service provider Vodafone acknowledged that the government had invoked emergency powers to force it to send out text messages. Some of the messages appeared to include calls for people to turn out in support of the government, and were sent ahead of the violent clashes. Images of the messages were posted online and first reported by The Guardian. “To every mother-father-sister-brother, to every honest citizen preserve this country as the nation is forever,” read one message.

In a message on its website, Vodafone announced that it has protested the government orders, but has little control over its own network.

Under the emergency powers provisions of the Telecoms Act, the Egyptian authorities can instruct the mobile networks of Mobinil, Etisalat and Vodafone to send messages to the people of Egypt. They have used this since the start of the protests. These messages are not scripted by any of the mobile network operators and we do not have the ability to respond to the authorities on their content. Vodafone Group has protested to the authorities that the current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable. We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator.