Global civil society urges Gulf countries to unblock VoIP services

A joint statement was signed by 29 organisations to call upon the governments of the Gulf countries to permanently lift the ban on all Voice Over IP (VoIP) platforms used for voice and video Internet calls. The banned VoIP services, which have been blocked since 2017, have an adverse impact on the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, privacy, and access to information. ‘One of the weapons people have against COVID-19 is information. Gulf governments, especially during this public health crisis, should not be in the business of restricting the free flow of information. Rather, they should facilitate unfettered access to a reliable, open, and secure internet, including communication apps,’ highlighted Access Now’s Global Internet Shutdowns Lead Berhan Tay. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, some Gulf countries have relaxed restrictions on some of the VoIP apps and platforms. For example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman have unblocked, on an ‘exceptional’ and temporary basis, apps that allow for distance learning such as Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Google Hangouts, and Zoom. Qatar has further allowed Microsoft Teams and Zoom services.