In­ter­net us­age in Egypt un­der state reg­u­la­tion

The Daily News Egypt - - In-Focus - By Amira El-Fekki

Us­ing the in­ter­net in Egypt does not come with­out dif­fi­cul­ties. Whether surfing the web or pub­lish­ing con­tent, users could find them­selves un­able to ac­cess hun­dreds of web­sites and what they put out could be the sub­ject of le­gal penal­ties.

Like else­where in the world, users are also of­ten ex­posed to fake news and unau­then­tic graph­ics and could be at risk of dig­i­tal se­cu­rity harm and scams.

In re­cent years,the Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment has sought to gain more con­trol over in­ter­net-pub­lished con­tent, on grounds of pro­tect­ing na­tional se­cu­rity and coun­ter­ing in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence. State bod­ies have also been closely mon­i­tor­ing so­cial me­dia con­tent re­lated to news and in­for­ma­tion on the coun­try’s af­fairs and mak­ing sure to deny cir­cu­lat­ing ru­mours.

Last May, the gov­ern­ment blocked nearly 20 web­sites as of­fi­cials claimed they were fu­elling ter­ror­ism.They in­cluded news web­sites which the gov­ern­ment has con­sid­ered hos­tile to Egypt,such asAl-Jazeera and other Mus­lim Broth­er­hood-af­fil­i­ated web­sites.

In the fol­low­ing months, the cam­paign ex­tended to more web­sites among which were many lo­cal news web­sites, spe­cialised on­line plat­forms (on arts,women,sports,etc),and for­eign web­sites as well.The crit­i­cal con­tent of some web­sites had al­ready been the sub­ject of de­nun­ci­a­tion by the gov­ern­ment and pro-state me­dia cam­paigns which es­tab­lished that those web­sites were work­ing on an agenda against the coun­try and its peo­ple.

Ac­cord­ing to data from the Min­istry of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy, there are nearly 33 mil­lion in­ter­net users in Egypt as of 2017, a 41% in­ter­net pen­e­tra­tion.

The in­ter­net served as an im­por­tant tool dur­ing the 2011 rev­o­lu­tion, start­ing with a blog­gers’ move­ment all the way to so­cial me­dia web­sites which were used to spread calls for protests.

The for­mer Mubarak regime had re­alised its sig­nif­i­cance within two days of the mass demon­stra­tions that broke out across the coun­try and re­sorted to cut­ting ac­cess to the web in a move that was pub­licly de­cried and be­came the sub­ject of in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

As the rev­o­lu­tion went on, so­cial me­dia plat­forms turned into ve­hi­cles for po­lit­i­cal de­bate. Face­book and Twit­ter were also widely used to ex­pose se­cu­rity forces’ al­leged vi­o­lence against pro­test­ers, spread the word about de­tainees, and bring­ing to­gether the com­mu­nity of po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists.

On­line po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns con­tin­ued in the fol­low­ing years,but di­vi­sions and po­lar­i­sa­tion were also in­creas­ing, and so was un­ver­i­fied in­for­ma­tion.

In this chaotic scene, the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to im­ple­ment a cy­ber­crime law that would in­clude penal­ties that may reach im­pris­on­ment.The law seems to have ob­tained par­lia­men­tary ap­proval, amid fears on lim­i­ta­tions on lib­er­ties.

But mem­ber of par­lia­ment have de­fended the ne­ces­sity of the law in fight­ing in­ter­net piracy, pro­tect­ing in­for­ma­tion, and prevent­ing abuses of tech­nol­ogy, deny­ing that it would re­strict per­sonal free­doms and say­ing that, on the con­trary, it would safe­guard users’ pri­vacy.

Cy­ber­crime law high­lights

-Mis­use of au­tho­ri­sa­tion to ac­cess a web­site, per­sonal ac­count, or in­for­ma­tion sys­tem: im­pris­on­ment for a min­i­mum of six months and/or a fine be­tween EGP 30,000 and EGP 50,000

-Unau­tho­rised ob­struc­tion of in­for­ma­tion and data: im­pris­on­ment for at least one year and/or a fine be­tween EGP 50,000 and EGP 250,000

-Dam­ag­ing, dis­rupt­ing, mod­i­fy­ing, or can­celling any stored pro­grammes and data on an in­for­ma­tion sys­tem by any means: im­pris­on­ment for at last two years and/or a fine be­tween EGP 100,000 and EGP 500,000

-Hack­ing into per­sonal ac­counts of in­di­vid­u­als: im­pris­on­ment for at least one month and a fine be­tween EGP 50,000 and EGP 100,000

-Hack­ing into ac­counts of le­gal per­sons: im­pris­on­ment for at least six months and/or a fine be­tween EGP 100,000 and EGP 200,000

-Can­cel­la­tion, change, or dis­tor­tion of de­sign of web­site of le­gal en­ti­ties:im­pris­on­ment for at least three months and a fine be­tween EGP 20,000 and EGP 100,000

-In some cases of hack­ing, prison sen­tences could reach two years and fines could range be­tween EGP 1m and EGP 5m

-Hack­ing charges could lead to im­pris­on­ment for at least two years and/ or a fine be­tween EGP 50,000 and 200,000

-ISPs are re­quired to pro­vide na­tional se­cu­rity au­thor­i­ties with in­for­ma­tion on users sus­pected of spread­ing ter­ror­ist and ex­trem­ist ide­olo­gies or face a fine up to EGP 500,000 if they refuse to do so.They can also ap­peal the de­ci­sion be­fore a court

-The pro­posed law al­lows the gov­ern­ment to block any on­line ma­te­rial pos­ing a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity

Con­trol­ling and mon­i­tor­ing so­cial me­dia use

With the grow­ing in­flu­ence of so­cial me­dia on which peo­ple are in­creas­ingly re­ly­ing for in­for­ma­tion, the gov­ern­ment has started to pay at­ten­tion to what is be­ing posted on those plat­forms.

The Egyp­tian Min­istry of In­te­rior is one body that is ac­tively mon­i­tor­ing so­cial me­dia pages and has an­nounced over the years the shut­down of hun­dreds of pages re­port­edly in­cit­ing vi­o­lence.

For ex­am­ple, the mil­i­tant group Hasm had been us­ing Face­book and Twit­ter to post state­ments about killing op­er­a­tions against po­lice per­son­nel. How­ever, other pages might have also been tar­geted by the min­istry in spite of their non-vi­o­lent con­tent. There were sev­eral re­ports on ar­rests made of in­di­vid­u­als who ad­min­is­tered so­cial me­dia pages al­legedly in­cit­ing vi­o­lence, ac­cord­ing to the min­istry.

“In­te­rior Min­istry of­fi­cials say 2,000 so­cial me­dia ac­counts im­pli­cated in dis­sem­i­nat­ing ex­trem­ist ide­olo­gies,spread­ing harm­ful ru­mours, and pre­par­ing ter­ror­ist at­tacks have al­ready been closed,” Ahram On­line re­ported in March.

More­over, au­thor­i­ties en­cour­aged cit­i­zens to re­port what they be­lieved was mis­lead­ing or false in­for­ma­tion.

The min­istry is not the only mon­i­tor­ing en­tity.Within grow­ing re­stric­tions on the pub­lic sphere, pro-state ac­tors have also played the role of mon­i­tor­ing and re­port­ing so­cial me­dia con­tent, es­pe­cially if posted by po­lit­i­cal or hu­man rights ac­tivists and po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

This con­tent was of­ten used by such me­dia to con­duct smear cam­paigns against those per­sons, in­clud­ing on some oc­ca­sions the use of pri­vate in­for­ma­tion for the same pur­pose.

In a more pro­gres­sive ap­proach, some gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions have been fol­low­ing up on news cir­cu­lated on so­cial me­dia and then is­su­ing state­ments to clar­ify their au­then­tic­ity.


Users’ pri­vacy pro­tec­tion

While the world is wit­ness­ing one of the most pow­er­ful scan­dals re­lated to Face­book’s ex­ploita­tion of users’ data, the topic is not viewed as a pri­or­ity in Egypt.

The is­sue re­cently came up dur­ing de­bates on a new law that would reg­u­late the op­er­a­tions of ride-hail­ing ap­pli­ca­tions such as Uber and Ca­reem, where both com­pa­nies re­port­edly ob­jected to ar­ti­cles that would re­quire them to pro­vide state au­thor­i­ties with com­plete ac­cess to their data­bases.

In the new cy­ber­crimes law, there are penal­ties that would ap­ply against com­pa­nies, state, or pri­vate en­ti­ties mis­us­ing the data of in­ter­net users or breach­ing their data pri­vacy.

Ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal Al-Youm AlSabea web­site, ar­ti­cle 26 of the law stip­u­lates a prison sen­tence of at least six months and/or a fine rang­ing be­tween EGP 50,000 and EGP 100,000 in the case of vi­o­lat­ing pri­vacy and users’ data for pro­mo­tion pur­poses with­out their con­sent.

In fact, for­eign re­ports said the Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment had pur­chased dif­fer­ent pro­grammes aimed at sur­veil­lance from Western coun­tries.A re­cent re­search by Ci­ti­zen Lab sug­gested the gov­ern­ment was do­ing more than that:us­ing in­ter­net users to mine cryp­tocur­rency.

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