Egypt court says IT companies not liable for telecom shutdowns


An Egyptian court has exonerated the country’s telecommunications companies over Internet and mobile shutdowns in late January during the 18-days of mass protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The decision has been met with anger by activists, who blame the shutdown on the losses of life.

One activist said that they knew of a number of people who were unable to receive medical attention after being shot because there was no mobile service.

“I was there. I saw people bleed to death because there was no way to contact anyone. Our mobiles were turned off,” said Salma Hassan, a 22-year-old activist, who said the ruling was “despicable.”
Others said the ruling shows that despite moving forward on corruption charges of former government officials, the telecom operators are getting away with, in one activist’s words, “murder.”
The case was brought to the court by the Egyptian Center for Housing Rights in April. They led a lawsuit on behalf of citizens against the country’s three mobile companies Mobinil, Vodafone and Etisalat.

The plaintiffs had been seeking compensation for the damages they had suffered as a result of all telecommunications services being turned off.

Egypt’s al-Ahram newspaper reported on Tuesday that the High Administrative Court said the cutting of the Internet and mobile services was not “spontaneous,” as officials claimed.

The court did say “as early as April 2008 the ministries of interior, telecommunications and mass communications, in association with telecom companies and Internet providers operating in Egypt, conducted a series of experiments to practice how to cut connections.”
The court did not include these outages in the case, fining only top former officials, including Mubarak. Communications and IT Minister Maged Osman announced in a press conference Sunday that the ministry would pay domestic mobile-phone operators LE100 million ($16.8 million) in compensation for the five-day disruption of services.

By Desmond Shephard