Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Egypt’s New SMS Regulations

Regulating mobile short messaging service (SMS) is nothing new. Many countries around the world have developed guidelines and/or policies to regulate business-to-consumer SMS services. I for one hate it when I receive unsolicited messages on my mobile, and wish the regulator in my county could do something about that.

The telecom regulatory authority of Egypt announced yesterday that SMS providers should obtain a license before sending messages over mobile networks in Egypt. When I first read the news I thought my wish had finally come true and I would no longer receive “spam” on my mobile. But after reading through the news, I realized I was too optimistic, and got to understand that the issue was not about the legal framework needed to regulate this whole business and protect consumers. It was rather about monitoring procedures being introduced to allow security agencies to read messages. All this comes in the lead up to the parliamentary elections that Egypt will witness next month, and the presidential elections in 2011.

Politics aside, few observations are worth mentioning despite the little information available thus far on the subject, and the lack of any relevant information on NTRA and MCIT websites. The reports only talked about news services and named the ministry of information and the press supreme council as the entities authorized to grant licenses to service providers. So NTRA has nothing to do with such licenses. What does that mean? It simply means that those licenses are not about mobile services, but rather about content. The other part of the puzzle is the fact that security agencies are going to monitor the messages, identify the senders and the recipients, read the content, and decide which messages to pass and which to block. There is no mention of any regulations about the service itself: the relationship between the sender and the service provider, the sender and the recipient, and the rights of each party. This is in essence the real work that any regulator has to undertake. Regulators are not and should not be there to monitor or help other entities monitor what end-users do on the networks. Let alone privacy and freedom of expression rights, which I don’t think they exist in our laws. 

And of course I will continue to receive unsolicited messages on my mobile as long as they do not contain any political stuff the “censor” may opt to filter.