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New Internet café measures tantamount to censorship, says ANHRI

(ANHRI/IFEX) - On 9 August 2008, ANHRI announced that the Egyptian government has imposed a new measure obliging Internet cafés to gather and keep certain personal information from visitors who use their services. The information collected includes the names, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of would-be Internet users.

ANHRI is concerned that the measure infringes upon the privacy of Internet users, and that it is aimed at intimidating them from freely accessing information on the Internet, and from freely expressing themselves in online forums, for fear their use of the Internet will be tracked by the authorities.

In June, well known blogger Wael Abbas, the owner of "Alwa'i Al Masri" (Egyptian Awareness Blog), expressed concern about the already common practice, and warned that it might be expanded.

Visitors to Internet cafés are now required to obtain a slip from the coffee shop with a personal identification number (PIN). That number, along with the user's name, mobile phone number, and e-mail address must be entered online. Individuals cannot access the Internet until they have first received a text message on their mobile phone with this personal data and have verified the information.

The measure appears to be based on an agreement between two companies (Mobinil Mobile Service Co. and Link Telecommunication Company), owned by Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris, on the one hand, and the state security apparatus, on the other. Both parties may benefit from the measure, which violates people's right to privacy and to freely access information by Internet.

"It is ironic (. . .) Now all are being treated equally - the poor Internet users who are forced to provide their names and identification numbers so that they can use computers in the Internet cafes; rich citizens who use their own PCs and laptops in luxurious coffee shops; and tourists. All are being censored," said ANHRI executive director Gamal Eid.

ANHRI is concerned that this measure is part of a security policy aimed at imposing constraints on, and thereby indirectly censoring, Internet users, and is appalled that telecommunications service companies have been enlisted to assist with this illegitimate effort.

For further information, see the following ANHRI reports:

"Increasing curb over Internet usage: Harassments against net cafés should immediately end"

"Political bonds on internet use continue: Ahmez Nazif makes Egypt a hostile country to the Internet",

"Arab government's repression does not leave out the Internet"

"Implacable adversaries: Arab governments and the Internet"

To read the article on the "Alwa'i Al Masri" blog (in Arabic only), see:

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