• Reports
  • August 12, 2008
  • 17 minutes read

In Egypt, Beware Everyone Is Watched Online

In Egypt, Beware Everyone Is Watched Online


 *Sitting as usual at a small table in his café beside a window overlooking the American University in Cairo whose students are most of his customers, with a cup of Nescafe and laptop, Khaled ( 21 years ) starts to pointedly surf websites to know latest news of the world. He opens his e-mail and writes new posts in his weblog that records his daily routine as a student in the American University in Cairo .


Khaled got used- like others affiliated to the Egyptian upper class- to use his laptop inside this branch of a US-themed Internet café in downtown Cairo where he can receive special services like the wireless Wi-Fi internet service.


This special service has recently started to draw a number of middle class Internet café goers who want to escape from the tight security measures imposed on cybercafés, including giving identity data of the Internet users to the cafe owner. This tight measure doubled the number of upscale cafes. Although they are of higher costs than ordinary internet cafes, they aren”t now restricted to the well-off.


A Strange Message


However, a few days ago, Khaled was stunned by a strange message when he was opening his laptop in this upper-class internet cafe. A message popped out asking him to write his identity data (name, address, telephone number and e-mail) in a compulsory manner while he has the option of writing his age, conditioning that all the information is true to allow him to use the Wi-Fi service to surf the Internet.


The message says in the end that the user shall receive an SMS after 5-10 minutes (a period to be sure that the submitted data are true) on the mobile phone number that the entered to receive to receive the password through which he can use the Internet service, and the case recurs every time.


When Khaled asked about this message, the cafe official informed him that he must fill in these data as a condition to use the Wi-Fi service.


Khaled refused to do so and went to a famous net café in the street neighboring his university but he faced the same situation. When he asked about an explanation, he was told that it is a security decision and will be imposed in all internet cafes.


Not only were big cafes the only that imposed this decision, big hotels, restaurants, cultural centers and malls did so as well. Any place giving the Wi-Fi service has imposed this decision.


Violation of privacy


This decision has been described by human rights organizations as another part of the continuous measures of a violation of privacy and imposing supervision on Internet surfers. Through these measures, the user loses many of his rights of a safe web surfing, protection of his data and privacy.


This move comes after the Egyptian regime has legislated many bill laws and decisions that obstruct web surfers and users, specially bloggers and cyber activists.


In a recent survey, a group of bloggers and cyber activists saw that this measure mainly targets their activity and an attempt to obstruct their criticism to the ruling policies, especially after the Facebook young men”s call for the strike of April, 6th, faced a positive reaction from the Egyptian street and Al-Mahalla factory workers”.


A report entitled “More censorship and violation of privacy of Internet users in Egypt, issued on Saturday August, 9th, by the Arab network for Human Rights” revealed that there is a “suspicious” deal forged between Mobinil mobile phone company and Link telecom company- both owned by business tycoon Nagib Sawers- on the one hand and security services on the other.


This deal aims to “strip Internet users of their right of a safe web surfing or of the right to protect their information and privacy”, according to the report. Islamonline.net has demanded a response from Mobinil telecom company or Link, but our calls haven’t been answered up till now.


“Everyone watched”


For his part, Gamal Eid, the executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, called this measure as “a knockout blow to citizens” freedom of using the Internet and protecting their privacy to confirm that security policies aim at curbing movement of web surfers and watching them with the help of internet providers and phone companies”.


“Through this measure, everyone is watched by security services”, Eid added.


Eid called on everyone concerned with freedom of expression and protection of privacy to “fight and expose all these policies through legal means and also punish companies that collaborate with security services in illegal exercises that may violate rights of the Egyptians”.


“This measure condemns Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif who has apparently facilitated through his experiences in the telecommunications field, these security services to attempt to curb the use of the Internet, thus violating article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in which Egypt is a signatory. This article stipulates that ” Everyone shall have the right to seek and receive information without interference.”


This measure comes after a series of laws restricting freedom and movement of the Facebook activists who widely criticize the Egyptian regime”s policies.


These measures the Interior Ministry”s 2003 establishing of a body assigned with fighting computer and information network crimes, through which many websites and weblogs were blocked, the latest of which was blocking the website of the Egyptian Movement For Change (Kefaya) last May.


Add to this, authorities insist on not reducing the cost of the ADSL service due to the Jan, 2007 decision of Alaa Fahmi, chief executive of the National Telecom Regulatory Authority. This ADSL service is mostly used by web activists and bloggers (most of them belong to the Middle Class) in updating weblogs and following up activities on the Internet.


It is worth noting that Egyptian authorities have detained about 202 cyber activists and bloggers from 2005 to July 2008, human rights reports said.


*Translated  into English from Islamonline by Ikhwanweb