EXCL: Vodafone uses ‘national security’ as excuse for Egypt


4:53 pm - January 31st 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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Customer service representatives from Vodafone have justified cutting off telephone communications in Egypt using ‘national security’ as an excuse.

The statement was made to Liberal Conspiracy reader and Green party candidate Rupert Read in a reply to a query.

The email read:

From: Webform
To: rupertreadrules@yahoo.co.uk
Sent: Monday, January 31, 2011 7:53 AM
Subject: Re: Restoring coverage [#5593488]

Thank you for your email.

Vodafone restored voice services to our customers in Egypt on the morning of Saturday 29th January, as soon as we were able.

The decision to cease service, in certain parts of the country, was made following instructions from the Egyptian authorities. The authorities have the right to instruct operators to take extraordinary actions on national security grounds, and the operators are required to comply. Moreover, we would like to make it clear that the authorities in Egypt have the technical capability to close our network, and if they had done so it would have taken much longer to restore services to our customers.

It was therefore clear to us that there were no legal or practical options open to Vodafone, or any of the mobile operators in Egypt, but to comply with the demands of the authorities.

Moreover, our other priority is the safety of our employees and any actions we take in Egypt will be judged in light of their continuing wellbeing.

Regards,

Vodafone Customer Services

Rupert Read told us:

Do you know what you are saying here? You are taking the side of a dictatorship that has been suppressing and murdering its people, in the name of national security…
Frankly, it’s no wonder that more and more people in this country are campaigning against you … and that with the hundreds of thousands of protesters in Egypt, your name is mud.

Pretty much.

Update: Great article by Salil Tripathi on what other steps Vodafone could have taken

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Profit security, more like.

Moreover, our other priority is the safety of our employees and any actions we take in Egypt will be judged in light of their continuing wellbeing.

What does that mean? Vodafone do as they’re told in Egypt in case their employees get a hiding or worse?

The lack of any backbone at Vodafone (and other companies as well) makes the courage of protesters appear even greater!

3. Chaise Guevara

Not that I want to rain on anyone’s parade here, but do we know if Vodafone’s staff (either the people on the ground or the management for the country) would have been at risk of sanctions if they disobeyed? And do we know that their claim that the government shutting down comms would have been worse is false? If not, I don’t see much to condemn.

Anyone with half an understanding of how telecoms networks operate would understand Vodafone’s actions.

The company is dependent on state-controlled Telecom Egypt for its backhaul and had it refused to shut-down the radio masts, then the backhaul would have been cut – and as they note that would have been incredibly difficult to restore.

Also, Vodafone Egypt is 45% owned by Telecom Egypt, so is indirectly, an arm of the Egyptian government.

Now – which would you prefer?

That Vodafone takes the technically less damaging option, and agrees to a temporary shut-down for a few hours – or the high minded approach that could have cut their network off for days?

Which is it? Days or Hours? Which do you prefer?

Also, consider the impact of companies feeling free to ignore the government on a whim – how comfortable would you be if big corporations in the UK stuck two fingers up at the UK government, because their overseas shareholders might have a problem with a UK decision?

Then think how that works the other way round, when UK shareholders expect an Egyptian subsidiary to “stick two fingers up” at their local government.

Finally, it is worth noting that Vodafone Egypt is staffed by Egyptians – who might take some persuading to obey an order from a UK office to ignore the policeman holding a gun who is telling him to pull the plug on the network.

5. Chaise Guevara

@ 4

Yeah. While I do genuinely object to evil corporations being all evil and corporationy, this attack seems knee-jerk to say the least.

Liberal, left-wing blog complains about huge multi-national corporation’s decision not to illegally interfere in a country’s politics

Vodafone doesn’t break law shock, news at 11.

Justin. Yes, their staff felt threatened, I’ve seen reports of it, and frankl;y the idea that a company should deliberately put their staff at risk by breaking the local law at a time when the police are using live bullets to suppress protests slightly baffling.

What, exactly, is the story here anyway? “We did what was required by law and to protect our staff”.

Justin. Yes, their staff felt threatened, I’ve seen reports of it, and frankl;y the idea that a company should deliberately put their staff at risk by breaking the local law at a time when the police are using live bullets to suppress protests slightly baffling.

Errr Al-Jazeera has been doing this almost continuously across the Middle East.

Sure, they’re a media organisation, but that doesn’t mean they get special privileges.

That Vodafone takes the technically less damaging option, and agrees to a temporary shut-down for a few hours – or the high minded approach that could have cut their network off for days?

This is of course just speculation. Vodafone could have chosen not to collaborate and instead called their bluff. The Egyptian govt did the same with Al Jazeera. There were times the Al-Jaz staff were live on air while armed police were banging on their doors.

This idea that Vodafone had no choice is crap isn’t it?

9. Luis Enrique

This idea that Vodafone had no choice is crap isn’t it?

not if what IanVisit says at 4 about backhaul is correct. At least, if backhaul means what I think it means, which is: some necessary for continued operation.

10. Chaise Guevara

@ 8 “Errr Al-Jazeera has been doing this almost continuously across the Middle East.”

So? Why does vodafone have to emulate Al Jazeera’s actions? This is some kind of bizarre Everyone Has To Be Al Jazeera fallacy.

“This idea that Vodafone had no choice is crap isn’t it?”

There’s always choice. Vodafone could have chosen to endanger its staff and get some of its people thrown in jail. Crazily, it didn’t.

There’s always choice. Vodafone could have chosen to endanger its staff and get some of its people thrown in jail. Crazily, it didn’t.

Al Jaz did. I guess its about priorities.

12. Chaise Guevara

@ 11

You’re unbelievable at times, Sunny. Why aren’t you over in Egypt fighting for justice, then? If Vodafone had doen something actively wrong, I’d be behind you 100%. But to actively have a go at a group just for not breaking the law to suit your political ends is ridiculous. As is making silly little snide comments about “priorities”, as if you know better than others what their priorities should be.

Hi trolls!
True, you may not think of yourselves as trolls, but if you are happy to stand up proudly to defend a profiteering British company that openly proclaims that “The authorities [in Egypt] have the right to instruct operators to take extraordinary actions on national security grounds, and the operators are required to comply” and thinks that that is the end of the story, then as far as I am concerned you are trolls.
“National security” = the dictator Mubarak desperately trying to cling to power by cutting off people’s ability to organise protests to take him down. Well done, trolls, for doing your little bit to try to help him stay in the Presidency!

Rupert, don’t be a cock. Companies operate according to the laws of the land they operate in. Stating “The authorities [in Egypt] have the right to instruct operators to take extraordinary actions on national security grounds, and the operators are required to comply” is what we like to call a FACT.

I know that you may find facts difficult, but combine that with the principles of the rule of law, and Vodafone have done nothing, legally, wrong.

They may have done something we don’t like, they may have done something that you’d rather they didn’t do, but to refuse to look at the flip side is to assert that a company must be required to break the law and put its employees at risk for political purposes.

Nuance, you see, few things in life are black and white. Disagreeing with your insistence that it is isn’t rolling, it’s called ‘discussion’.

You may find this sort of thing common on a site designed to appeal to liberals, given that holding all things tentatively is one of the basic underpinning requirements.

15. Just Visiting

Sunny

what Chaise said.

Anyway – on what basis can you compare a news company – to a mobile phone operator… chalk and cheese

MatGB is absolutely right here.

Al Jazeera chooses to be Al Jazeera and put itself at exceptional levels of risk because of its devotion to truth, and everyone who chooses to work there does so in the knowledge that that’s the game.

Suggesting that the employees of every company have a moral obligation to act like Al Jazeera employees and damn the consquences is as ridiculous as suggesting that everyone who lives under a violent dictatorship has a moral obligation to act like Aung San Suu Kyi and damn the consequences.

If you think that ordinary people who happened to work for Vodafone had a moral duty to defy the government and get thrown in jail (or worse) for it – or that Vodafone’s primary moral duty was to engage in political grandstanding rather than to protect its employees – then you’d better have jumped on the first flight to Egypt and be on the front line of the protests already, otherwise you’re holding others to a ridiculously high moral standard that you don’t live up to yourself.

Well done, Rupert Read, for preferring Vodafone to do something that would have been counterproductive, illegal, and could have put staff at risk…. Really, well done..

I’ve had run-ins with Chaise G here before but I have to say he’s absolutely right on this one and what Rupert Read is saying here is astonishingly patronising and small-minded, and Chaise G doesn’t deserve to be called a troll.

If Sunny and Rupert Read think Vodafone are so cowardly in not risking the imprisonment of their staff, perhaps they should volunteer to man Vodafone’s stations in Egypt?

Maybe Sunny should run articles condemning those Egyptians who feared for their safety and who stayed at home rather than risk imprisonment, kettling and death at the protests?

19. Luis Enrique

it doesn’t matter everyone – this is Vodafone we’re talking about. Any article that contains the content Vodafone=bad should be met with a lusty cheer, damn the details.

@Luis

Good point. Vodafone are like the end-level boss in the Tax Avoidance level of the Student Protest game. Double points for connecting UK Uncut to the Egypt revolution somehow!

21. Chaise Guevara

@ 13

“True, you may not think of yourselves as trolls, but if you are happy to stand up proudly to defend a profiteering British company that openly proclaims that “The authorities [in Egypt] have the right to instruct operators to take extraordinary actions on national security grounds, and the operators are required to comply” and thinks that that is the end of the story, then as far as I am concerned you are trolls.”

That’s because you don’t know what the word “troll” means. It does not mean “people I disagree with”. Try to educate yourself a little before posting next time. Kthxbye

Errr Al-Jazeera has been doing this almost continuously across the Middle East.

Al Jazeera is not dependent for its output on Government-owned installations is it? Vodafone’s statement is simply saying that it neither has any legal grounds to refuse the Govt’s demands, and that even if it did, the Govt could physically force them off the air in a way. I know this is the official misleading/untrue sidebar story, but at least try and make it convincing hmm?

23. Chaise Guevara

@ 18

Cheers Eds, and I’d also like to say you’re right about this:

“Maybe Sunny should run articles condemning those Egyptians who feared for their safety and who stayed at home rather than risk imprisonment, kettling and death at the protests?”

Obviously Egyptians are only honour-bound to put themselves at risk if they work for a company Sunny dislikes.

24. Chaise Guevara

@ 24

I think we may have just stepped on each other’s toes.

I think the kind of polical blindness and hypocrisy you’re describing in terms of the left’s lack of self-crticism is common on all sides on the debate, it’s just that it’s most painful when you hear it on the part of people you agree with.

On the other hand, you’re not going to get many traditional lefties to embrace private-sector solutions by pointing out New Labour’s flaws, as that government was all about getting some private-sector involvement in traditionally state activity. That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do, just that New Labour isn’t your ideal poster child.

Maybe telecomms in Egypt should never have been handed over to evil multinationals, and should be operated by the State in the interests of all Egyptians, not private profit. Then there wouldn’t have been a problem, would there? Mubarak could just have ordered them to cut it all off in one go.

(Wupert’s an idiot, isn’t he ?)

26. Cynical/Realist?

Those standing against Vodaphone really aren’t considering the impacts of what their refusal would have done. Its likely to thuggish Egyptian police would have been dispatched and their staff would have been under a real threat of serious harm. Their ability to function would have been shut off anyway, and then their rights to operate in Egypt would have been removed anyway.

I can well agree that it would be fantastic for companies with any level of concience to say we are not prepared to operate in this country and walk away, putting that above the profits. But that would have been a decision for months/years ago – they know that regieme. They made the decision to allow cut of of supply when they signed up to operate in Egypt – not in the last week.

Plus, I’m sorry but the Al Jazzera comparison doesn’t hold here. Media organisations are formed to shine a light on the workings of the world – and bravo as so often to them for their efforts here and elsewhere. They aren’t subject to contracts with government like suppliers are. A mobile phone operator is set up to provide a service. I’d love to see a world where the comapnies would not get involved in repressive regiemes – but that argument is quite seperate from them fulfilling a contractual obligation they signed up for years in advance.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/when_corporations_choose_despots_over_democracy_20110201/
In this era of e-communications, companies like Vodafone ARE media companies, whether they (or trollish commenters here) wish to admit it, or not.

Rupert: seriously, stop being a cunt. Disagreeing with you does *not* make people trolls, it just makes them people who disagree with you. Sally is a troll; JustVisiting is a troll; Tim J, Chaise and I are not.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  2. Tim Hardy

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  3. Derek Bryant

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  4. .

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  6. sunny hundal

    Vodafone tell LC reader @rupertread they cut coverage in Egypt because of 'national security' http://bit.ly/fmCWrV #jan25

  7. Ma

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  8. Lanark

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  9. Jane Phillips

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  10. TenPercent

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  11. David

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  12. Richard Hartley

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  13. Avefenix

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  14. Oliver Conner

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  15. liliana dmitrovic

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  16. RupertRead

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  24. Rev Nev

    RT @libcon: Exclusive: Vodafone justifies censorship in Egypt over 'national security' http://bit.ly/fmCWrV

  25. Rev Nev

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  26. JulietteHarkin

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  27. RupertRead

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  28. christine clifford

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  29. RupertRead

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  30. A M

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  34. Pucci Dellanno

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  35. Protego Security

    EXCL: Vodafone uses 'national security' as excuse for Egypt … http://bit.ly/dXmChe

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  37. Vodaphone uses national security as an excuse for Egypt…. « Broad Left Blogging

    […] uses national security as an excuse for Egypt…. The below first appeared on Liberal Conspiracy. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of Sunny Hundal and Rupert […]

  38. Rachel Hubbard

    EXCL: Vodafone uses ‘national security’ as excuse for Egypt | Liberal Conspiracy http://goo.gl/DnxeM

  39. Vodafone in Egypt

    […] Sunny says Vodafone should have broken Egyptian law. […]





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