Egypt’s new cybercrime law legalizes Internet censorship

The “cybercrime law” that Egypt’s President Sisi signed on 18 August legalizes and reinforces the existing censorship and blocking of websites and criminalizes both those who operate sites and those who use them, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said.

Under article 7 of this law, Egypt’s authorities can now legally block access to any website that is deemed to constitute “a threat to national security” or to the “national economy.”

It legalizes a well-established practice. Hundreds of sites have already been blocked in the past few years, apparently on nothing more than the orders of security officials, and the authorities have arrested several online journalists and bloggers, including a news website editor and satirical bloggers.

Even visiting a banned website is now punishable by a year in prison while those who create or manage a website that is subsequently banned could be sentenced to two years in prison.

This law just legalizes the Internet censorship that is already practiced in Egypt” said Sophie Anmuth, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk. “In the name of national security, which is defined very broadly and vaguely, the authorities have assumed the right to censor news sites or NGOs whose only crime is reporting human rights violations by the state.

 

According to AFTE, an Egyptian free speech NGO, and Access Now, which defends an open Internet, “national security” is defined so broadly that it covers “all that is related to the independence, stability, and security of the homeland and its unity and territorial integrity” and anything to do with the president’s office and all defence and security departments.

Under another law passed last month, which has yet to be signed by the president, all social network accounts with more than 5,000 followers would be treated as media outlets.

RSF’s website is one of the many that are censored. It has been blocked since August 2017 without any explanation by the Egyptian authorities. On the first anniversary of the start of the blocking, RSF restored access to its site in Egypt by creating a mirror site.

Ranked 161st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Egypt is currently one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists, with at least 36 professional and non-professional journalists detained in connection with the provision of news and information.

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