Experts wary of State Council panel’s recommendation in favour of surveillance program

Monday 26-09-2016 PM 09:45
Experts wary of State Council panel’s recommendation in favour of surveillance program

People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken in Warsaw September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration/File Photo

CAIRO, Sept 26 (Aswat Masriya)- The State Council Commissioner's Authority issued on Sunday a report in favor of the use of a technology to monitor social media networks.

The report recommended that the administrative court dismiss a case challenging a Ministry of Interior decision to introduce a new security system to monitor social media.

While it is non-binding, the report is a "bad indicator," according to a lawyer at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), which is challenging the decision.

The report said that freedom of opinion and expression needs to be regulated to prevent any damage on individuals or state institutions, especially with the dissemination of social media in the community, according to state-run Al-Ahram.

The report claimed that social media pages are used to incite against the state and its institutions which harms Egyptian national security, which is of the Ministry of Interior's concern.

According to Hassan al-Azhari, lawyer at AFTE, the lawsuit which has been filed since the ministry's decision came to light in 2014, has been adjourned repeatedly pending the commissioner's authority's report.

The next court session is scheduled for Oct. 25.

In June 2014, Al-Watan newspaper published the Terms of Reference of a tender issued by Egypt's interior ministry to install a surveillance technology to monitor social media networks.

Under the name "measuring public opinion," the ministry said that through this technology it will survey the security risks of social media.

Accordingly, a lawsuit was filed challenging the Ministry of Interior's decision, saying it compromises the rights and freedoms of individuals that are stipulated by the law and the constitution.

The ToR included 54 specifications of the technology that allows the ministry to help identify people who influence public opinion, sheds light on the most discussed topics on social media and the different opinions about it. It also allows the monitoring the phrases that are deemed in violation of laws and public morals.

The technology also allows for extensive monitoring of social media pages including the number of likes on a page and the identity of its followers.

Technology expert Ahmed Gharbia said the interior ministry is not tasked with measuring public opinion, adding that there are special institutions tasked with this.

He believes that even though the posts may be public, "it is still a violation as it means that you can be accounted for something you wrote in the past when your opinion may have been different."

He also criticised the "lack of transparency" as no information about the tender has been made public. No official announcement has been made about which company was awarded the tender, he said.

While it remains unclear how the State Commissioner's Authority report will affect the case, he also agreed that it is a negative indicator.


According to Azhari, the state is using once more the "war on terrorism" rhetoric and the current security situation to allow for the technology to be used.

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