Egypt's cybercrime law overstep legal and Human rights boundaries
 

On May 10, 2016, the Egyptian Parliament began working on a new draft of a bill related to cybercrime. This bill was been submitted by MP Tamer Shihawi, and sets out new penalties and sanctions for a number of illegal electronic practices and crimes. Shihawi’s suggestion came as a reaction against what he called "chaotic" and individual "violations" on the internet.

He justified his proposition by the fact that this law aims to protect national security, insisting that the constant threats to Egypt’s national security are taking place mostly in cyberspace and through modern technology. He then highlighted the obligation of the state to take strict deterrent measures to counter these threats in order to protect what he called “oblivious citizens.”

Different points have been highlighted in this version of the text, including the criminalization of electronic acts such as electronic fraud, the creation of websites to encourage terrorism, or the transfer of information. The new legal text provides penalties such as blocking sites or cancelling their licenses by court order. But most important are the harsher penalties, which go from imprisonment for several months to life imprisonment to the death penalty.

The bill mandates a life sentence — 25 years — for anyone who creates or uses a website with the aim to establish a terrorist entity; promote its ideology; exchange its assignments; or raise funds or provide money, arms, ammunition or explosives to the benefit of such entities. However, there is no clear definition of what a terrorist entity is.

The law also stipulates three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 2 million Egyptian pounds (about $225,000) for any service provider that fails to comply with the criminal court’s decision to block certain websites or links. The sentence goes to life imprisonment or death sentence, along with a fine not to exceed 20 million Egyptian pounds ($2.25 million) if such an act results in loss of life or threatens national security.

It is important to say that this text “aims,” as Parliament member Shehawy said, to safeguard society in case of violation or threat to the public order, obstruction or hindrance of the efforts of the authorities, or damage to national unity and social stability.

From the Activists’ Perspective Shahawy’s proposition was strongly criticized by several human rights organizations, which consider the bill to be a new instrument by which the government is trying to crack down on dissenters expressing their views on social media outlets, after these websites fueled the January 25 Revolution and facilitated its success. For instance, the Democratic Current Alliance fears that the law aims to restrict freedoms, saying it has high potential for abuse and imposes excessive sentences against violators. They have jointly called on political leaders to reject a cybercrime bill that proposes such tough penalties.

The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), and the Support for Information Technology Center (SITC) said that the bill would affect the rights and freedoms of all internet users in Egypt. They published a report on the bill titled "Antagonising Technology."

"The draft law consists of mostly partial articles that are poorly worded and vague," the rights groups said in their statement. “It would also hurt the country's economic, civil and political robustness,” they added.

For instance, they describe Articles 11 and 23 of the bill as the "most dangerous," imposing "extremely harsh penalties," including rigorous prison sentences and high fines on anyone convicted of committing "public order crimes" online.Articles 12, 13, and 26 stipulate possible prison terms for information technology systems managers, where IT officials can be jailed if a successful cyber attack is carried out on the computer systems they are managing, making the job of the information systems management “ a crime by law." 

Ramy Raoof is one of the co-founders of Mushtarak, a tech space running workshops on digital security. Raoof believes that the government intends to “develop a special law for cyber crimes — from their point of view, because the current laws don’t fit all the crimes and the current legal definition doesn’t include the new, advanced technology of communications, and they need a special set of laws to justify surveillance, which doesn’t exist.” The new bill is one step in that direction, but not the first.

Raoof says that this six-month timeline represents a “huge shift” from the government’s previous approach — conducting mass surveillance while denying that surveillance is taking place.On May 15, law professor and head of the Cairo Center for Political and Legal Studies, Ahmed Mahran told the press that the cybercrime law contains many of the same clauses found in the counterterrorism law. Such clauses will lead to further restrictions on rights and freedoms, especially the freedom of expression.

But according to digital security advocates and researchers, there is more to the bill than fighting terrorism or restricting online freedoms. In Egypt, social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter have not only served as platforms for expression, but also helped further campaigns and rallied support for urgent social causes, while local and traditional media outlets have come up short.

 
Mrs. Aicha Jeridi & Ms. Sarra Attafi