Human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) condemned Wednesday Egyptian authorities alleged plans to enact “indiscriminate surveillance” on social media which the group believes would “deal a devastating blow to the rights to privacy and freedom of expression in the country”.
The statement comes on the heels of a leaked Ministry of Interior document that suggests the ministry is searching for tenders to create surveillance software to monitor at least 26 topics ranging from defamation of religion, calling for illegal strikes and demonstrations as well as terrorism and violence.
According to AI, the programmes, which are similar to mass surveillance used by the US and European States, “violate both national and international human rights law”.
“The Egyptian authorities should not replicate illegal programmes that have been used by other countries to violate the right to privacy,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director of AI.
According to the statement, AI expresses concern not only about the legality of mass surveillance programmes, but also how such programmes will be used by Egyptian authorities to clamp down on dissent.
“The plans by the Egyptian authorities to indiscriminately monitor social media a few months after the adoption of a new constitution guaranteeing the right to privacy shows the little regard they have for human rights or the rule of law. The plans also spark serious fears that systematic monitoring of social media networks will be used by the authorities to further clamp down on the slightest sign of dissent,” said Sahraoui.
Although Egyptian law allows for specific, short-time monitoring with judicial oversight and monitoring social media can be used to combat the very real threat of domestic terrorism, the statement draws attention to the context in which the surveillance programmes will be used.
“The Egyptian authorities have an abysmal track record when it comes to respecting the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly. A system to conduct indiscriminate surveillance of social media on a mass scale risks becoming yet another instrument in the Egyptian government’s toolbox of state repression,” Sahraoui continued.
The Ministry of Interior has already arrested dozens of social media users that use posts to “incite violence against security forces” or spread information of police officers, such as their home addresses.
Last Wednesday, Brigadier Mohamed Abdel Wahed spokesman of the General Information and Documentation Unit of the Ministry of Interior said in a televised interview on Privately owned Al-Hayah Satellite Channel that the privacy of the Egyptian citizens is granted by the constitution and the law and is respected by the ministry.
“The ministry refuses the term monitoring that has been used in the media,” Abdel Wahed said. He added that the ministry aims to protect citizens from online crimes and classifies 99% of internet users as safe users of the internet, but only 1% are considered “hackers”.