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Internet censorship bill looms large over Egypt

Protesters outside the Egyptian Embassy in London, UK, 5 November 2015; A Facebook user who posted the featured image of President El-Sisi with superimposed Mickey Mouse ears was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison that same year
Protesters outside the Egyptian Embassy in London, UK, 5 November 2015; A Facebook user who posted the featured image of President El-Sisi with superimposed Mickey Mouse ears was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison that same year

Alisdare Hickson via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This excerpt of the Global Netizen Report was originally published on advox.globalvoices.org on 16 March 2018. It is republished here under Creative Commons license CC-BY 3.0.

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."

Writing for Access Now about the rising quantity of blocked websites in Egypt - which is now at 500, by popular count - Emna Sayadi points out that the law could contravene Egypt's Constitution. She cites Article 57:

…the State undertakes to protect the right of citizens to use public means of communication in all its forms. It shall not ban, block or deprive citizens of such rights in an abusive manner and this shall be regulated by the law.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world. For the full content of the Report, click here.

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