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State security police force Internet café owners to report on customers visiting "political" websites

(ANHRI/IFEX) - On 10 June 2009, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) reported that State Security Police are violating the right to privacy by spying on Internet users in Egypt, searching for individuals who exercise their right to express their political views online peacefully.

After forcing Internet café owners to register the names and identity numbers of those who visit the cafés frequently, State Security officers are now asking owners to spy on their customers and monitor which websites they browse, and to report to the police anyone who browses "political" websites.

"Yesterday, security forces raided an Internet cafe in Agouza district, and asked for the visitors' registration book with details on visitors from the beginning of the café's work on January 16, 2009, although the owners had leased it on May 25 and opened the place for clients on June 5," ANHRI said. The network added that when the owner of the café told police that there were no books, they took his ID card and the license of the café. Moreover, they confiscated Internet service equipment and took him to the Security Directorate in Giza. There he was charged with "practicing an activity without a license"

A number of lawyers from the Arabic Network attended the official investigation and the prosecutor decided to release the Internet café owner without bail. But when the lawyers submitted a request to have the confiscated equipment returned, the prosecution said it would keep it in the warehouse of the police station in connection with the case.

When the café owner and manager received their license and ID cards from the State Security, an officer ordered them to write down the names, addresses and ID numbers of each visitor and monitor any person browsing "terrorist" or "political" websites. The officer gave them his personal phone number to report immediately on any person they noticed browsing such sites. He also threatened to close the café if they did not report on anyone during the coming month. The officer told them: "it is impossible that no one from your visitors will browse such websites for a whole month."

ANHRI strongly condemns the State Security practice of monitoring and punishing any citizen who seeks to express his political views peacefully. At the same time, the network condemns the threatening of Internet café owners and forcing them to spy on their clients. As a result, the network is demanding the Interior Minister issue orders to stop such practices, which violate the right to privacy and the right of expression, as guaranteed by Egyptian law and international human rights covenants. ANHRI also calls on the minister to refrain from forcing the owners of Internet cafes to register the names and ID card numbers of visitors and to stop treating the browsing of political websites a punishable crime.

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