Web users at internet cafes allegedly under the radar of state security, says blogger
Do you regularly check your email, chat with friends, or surf the internet at one of Cairo’s many net cafes? If so, don’t be surprised if you are asked to present your ID card, passport, or provide your telephone number in order to use the computer next time.
In an effort to curb illegal internet activity, state security and the Ministry of Interior allegedly issued a rule that requires users at Egyptian internet cafes to present identification documents and sometimes even a phone number when using these public facilities.
“Yes, we ask users to show their ID card or passport when logging onto our computers. It’s a security measure implemented by the Ministry of Interior, I have heard. We have had this sign up for a few months now,” a representative from World.com Internet Café in Maadi, told Daily News Egypt as he pointed at the front door note instructing users to present identification documents.
While many argue that the law is a rather new phenomenon, internet law experts stress that the rule has existed for some time.
“This is not a new rule at all. It has existed for years. The only difference is that they are starting to enforce it more these days,” Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, told Daily News Egypt.
According to World.com, the internet café receives sporadic visits from security officials.
“Sometimes they come to take a look at our lists. They can see from our user list if anyone has accessed illegal sites or engaged in any illegal activity online,” World.Com’s representative said.
When asked what websites are deemed illegal and what sort of web activity is being monitored, World.Com did not have an answer.
Old or new, the rule appears to be enforced more stringently these days.
Wael Abbas, moderator of the anti-government blog Misr Digital told Daily News Egypt that he was forced to leave a Maadi internet café for logging onto his blog from their facility.
“I was being interviewed by a few foreign journalists and we decided to go to an internet café so that I could show them my work. When I opened my blog the owner approached us and asked us to leave. He said that it is not allowed to open such sites at his facilities on orders from state security,” said Abbas.
Ahmed, 20, who frequently visits internet cafes in Cairo, told Daily News Egypt that he “would not like to present his ID and phone number to surf the net.”
“It seems odd to me to having to present an ID to check my email,” Ahmed stressed.
When Daily News Egypt visited Cyber Café in the Grand Mall in Maadi, it was told that users are only required to provide their IDs and not a phone number.
“We have practiced this rule for approximately three years now. It is a security precaution. We are only following orders from the Ministry of Interior,” said the clerk at cyber café.
Abbas, however, said that such a law is unconstitutional. “A rule like this should be illegal. Soon they will start asking you to show ID when buying cheese at your local grocery store,” he added.
At Sigma Net Café in Zamalek, front desk manager Ismail told Daily News Egypt that Egyptians have to provide their ID card numbers and foreigners their passport numbers to use computers.
“This is not new and all internet cafes are supposed to follow this rule,” he said.
Daily News Egypt was not allowed to take a picture of the regulation posted in Sigma Net’s facilities.
Despite repeated attempts, Daily News Egypt has not received a comment from the Ministry of Interior on the issue.
Egypt has received strong criticism from international rights groups as well as foreign governments for its treatment of cyber dissidents.
On July 11, internet blogger Amr Sharqawy was arrested and detained for three days while covering alleged fraud at Egypt’s recent Shoura elections.
Earlier this spring, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Abdel Moneim Mahmoud was detained on vague charges. Rights groups, activists, and the Brotherhood stress that Mahmoud’s detainment was a consequence of his online writings in which he posed strong criticism of the government.
In February, student blogger Kareem Amer was sentenced to four years in prison for defaming Islam and President Mubarak on his internet blog. Amer’s sentence marked the first time Egypt imprisons a blogger.
Press freedom groups Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists recently added Egypt to their roster of enemies of the Internet and backsliders of press freedom.