Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has signed a new law that tightens controls over the internet.
The legislation means websites can be blocked in Egypt if deemed to constitute a threat to national security or the economy. Anyone found
guilty of running, or just visiting, such sites could face prison or a fine.
Authorities claim the new measures are needed to tackle instability and terrorism.
But human rights groups say the government of trying to crush all political
dissent in the country. The Cairo-based Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression said more than 500 websites had already been blocked in Egypt prior to the new law being signed.
Last month another bill was passed by parliament, yet to be
approved by President Sisi, that would allow any social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers to be placed under supervision.
The new 45-article cybercrime law, named the Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes law, is divided into two parts. The first part of the bill stipulates that service providers are obligated to retain user information (i.e. tracking data) in the
event of a crime, whereas the second part of the bill covers a variety of cybercrimes under overly broad language (such as threat to national security).
Article 7 of the law, in particular, grants the state the authority to shut
down Egyptian or foreign-based websites that incite against the Egyptian state or threaten national security through the use of any digital content, media, or advertising. Article 2 of the law authorizes broad surveillance capabilities, requiring
telecommunications companies to retain and store users' data for 180 days. And Article 4 explicitly enables foreign governments to obtain access to information on Egyptian citizens and does not make mention of requirements that the requesting country
have substantive data protection laws.
Egyptian parliamentarians will soon review a draft anti-cybercrime law that could codify internet censorship practices into national law.
While the Egyptian government is notorious for censoring websites and platforms on
national security grounds, there are no laws in force that explicitly dictate what is and is not permissible in the realm of online censorship. But if the draft law is approved, that will soon change.
Article 7 of the
anti-cybercrime law would give investigative authorities the right to order the censorship of websites whenever evidence arises that a website broadcasting from inside or outside the state has published any phrases, photos or films, or any promotional
material or the like which constitute a crime, as set forth in this law, and poses a threat to national security or compromises national security or the national economy. Orders issued under Article 7 would need to be approved by a judge within 72 hours
of being filed.
Article 31 of the law holds internet service providers responsible for enacting court-approved censorship orders. ISP personnel that fail to comply with orders can face criminal punishment, including steep fines (a
minimum of 3 million Egyptian pounds, or 170,000 US dollars) and even imprisonment, if it is determined that their refusal to comply with censorship orders results in damage to national security or the death of one or more persons.
In an interview with independent Cairo-based media outlet Mada Masr, Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression legal director Hassan al-Azhari argued that this would be impossible to prove in practice.
The law also addresses issues of personal data privacy, fraud, hacking, and communications that authorities fear are spreading terrorist and extremist ideologies.
This summer, the Egyptian government started to block access to news websites. At last count, it had blocked more than 400 websites. Realising that citizens are using Virtual Private Network (VPN) services to bypass such censorship, the government also
started to block access to VPN websites.
In addition to this, ISPs have started using deep packet inspection (DPI) techniques in order to identify and block VPN traffic. Egypt blocked the Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) and Layer 2 Tunneling
Protocol (L2TP) VPN protocols in August. However, until now OpenVPN, worked fine. This allowed ordinary Egyptians to access the uncensored internet.
On 3 October, however, the situation changed. It was reported on reddit that Egypt has now blocked
OpenVPN as well. It seems that ISPs are using DPI techniques to detect OpenVPN packets.
An Egyptian court has ordered Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb to impose a ban on pornographic websites. A similar decision taken two years ago described pornographic content as somehow venomous and vile, but failed to come into force.
latest ruling is to be immediately enforced, but it can be appealed at the Supreme Administrative Court, Ahram Online reported.
During the hearing, lawyer Nezar Gharab said that pornographic websites lead to a spread in immorality, affecting young people:
Islamic Sharia law and all heavenly religions came to elevate human beings to a desired level of dignity.
Egypt's judiciary has turned down a court case calling for banning of internet pornography websites.
The case was filed by lawyer Ibrahim Atteya, citing article two of the now suspended 2012 constitution. The article stated that the principles of
Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation. Atteya claimed that internet websites which spread indecency do not comply with Islamic Sharia.
The case was turned down since Atteya failed to abide by proper procedure when filing his
original requests to cancel the decision.
Hassan Azhary, lawyer at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) had argued that: Technically speaking, the internet pornography ban is almost impossible . He explained that the
ban is very costly; it could costs millions of Egyptian pounds. He added that it's very difficult to list down the names of all pornography websites. Azhary also said there are some programs which can open banned websites: A ban would be a waste of
Egypt is ready to start blocking pornographic websites. Sherif Hashem, deputy head of the National Telecom Regulatory Authority said:
The companies providing Internet service in Egypt have installed filters in their
networks since January to block any content demanded by the judicial authorities in Egypt,.
Hashem now asks that concerned authorities specifically define what websites should be blocked so that the government can ask Internet
providers to block them. He explained:
There is no such thing as blocking such sites as a whole, but they must be specified.
In November, the former prosecutor general sent official letters to the
communications and information technology minister, the interior minister and the head of the National Telecom Regulatory Authority ordering that they block pornographic websites.
Increasing influence of Islamist groups within Egypt has led to state prosecutor, Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, ordering the blocking of all pornographic pictures or scenes inconsistent with the repressive values and traditions of the Egyptian people.
The prosecutor cited a 2009 that ordered all porn sites to be banned, and another this March, when an Egyptian judge decreed that all pornography on the internet was illegal.
Critics of the rise of Islamic parties in the country warn that the
move will inevitably be a pretext to censor other speech, as well. Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American activist, tweeted: '
I'm not arguing with anyone about porn but know this: 'ban' porn sites today, ban your
An Egyptian court has outright declared internet pornography illegal. The move comes as pressure mounted on the ruling parties to do something about a supposed pornography problem from nutter groups.
Questions arise as to how enforceable the new
law could possibly be. A court in Egypt proclaimed a similar ban in 2009 and it never saw any practical implementation. The country could simply declare it illegal. The other option for the country is to filter its citizen's internet access, a method
that is being actively investigated according to rulers, and one which raises many more questions about the country's future.
This move could be the shot that signals a very different Egypt and one that the west won't find as cooperative as has
been enjoyed in recent times. The military is still pro west, the country receives billions in military aid every year to keep them that way and to continue their influence over the country's policy. Egypt is very important to the United States for two
major reasons. The country borders Israel whose security is a strategic imperative and it surrounds the Suez canal one of the world's most important shipping routes and the most important in terms of energy.
Egypt's prime minister from the religious extremist party, al-Nour Salafist, is pushing for a complete ban of internet porn.
According to reports, Younis Makhioun has requested an urgent briefing to be discussed in Egypt's lower house. He
These sites spread evil among different sects of the Egyptian society, its content is criminalized by Egyptian law as well as being a breach of religious beliefs and social values and morals.
Despite an outcry from some Egyptians about the loss of personal freedoms and the possibility of further censorship to non-porn sites, the prime minister stated that blocking adult sites should not be considered a breach of freedom of speech.
The new proposed ban is expected to pass the Islamist-dominated parliament.
Egypt has just upped its war on the Internet, and cut access to mobile phone communications, in areas where thousands of protesters gathered for a Day of Revolution. The aim seemed to be an attempt to control the flood of protesters and strangle the
Demonstrations sprung across the country, with calls for the end of President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule, corruption, economic failings as well as other grievances. Word of the protests and gathering points had been announced on social
networking sites, including microblogging site, Twitter, which has been blocked by the authorities.
Such censorship has sparked the anger of activists, especially since it is the first time in Egypt's history that such heavy-handedness is used to
silence people online. The move is a stark reminder of the iron fist with which ousted Tunisian strongman Zeine El Abidine Ben Ali clamped down on the Internet, in neighbouring Tunisia, whose uprising has inspired millions of Arabs.
It is reported that Egypt is now under an Internet and SMS blackout. The governments appears under siege after a series of major protests against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
Sebone, a major Egyptian service provider based in Italy, is
reporting that no Internet traffic is entering or exiting the country. Reporters and citizens on-the-ground are also reporting that they are experiencing an Internet and SMS outage.
Egypt has been enveloped in unrest over the presidency of Hosni
Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981. The protests have been partly inspired by the successful revolution in Tunisia that forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali out of power after 23 years. Facebook, Twitter and social media were key communication
tools used by protesters to organize rallies.
Nilesat, the Egyptian state satellite company has stopped transmitting the signal of Al-Jazeera's primary Arabic language channel.
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the actions of Egyptian authorities to disrupt media coverage by
Al-Jazeera and calls on them to reverse the decision immediately.
Both Al-Jazeera and Al-Jazeera English continued to report today on Egypt from other locations. CPJ research shows that viewers outside Egypt can now view the network's Arabic
channel only on the Hotbird satellite or other satellites not controlled by Egyptian authorities.
But at least two individuals in Egypt who spoke to the channel's anchor on air reported that they could not view the channel even on non-state
satellites, an indication that authorities may be jamming those transmissions.
Al-Jazeera English's broadcast remained on Nilesat.