Egypt's interior ministry has denied news reports that it contracted the Egyptian sister company of a US-based online security firm to monitor Egypt's electronic communications and social media networks.
In a short statement published on the ministry's website on Thursday, it said the reports were based upon a "western news website" – a reference to BuzzFeed News, where an article was published on Wednesday stating that See Egypt, the sister company of US-based online security firm Blue Coat, had won a contract to monitor sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in Egypt.
The ministry's statement called the claims completely false. It also rebuked local media for widely broadcasting the article, saying that "Egypt is facing a lot of challenges" and that "this type of news aims to shake the people's confidence in the interior ministry."
However, the denial goes against comments made by See Egypt's CEO Ali Miniesy in the BuzzFeed article, where he confirmed that his company was providing surveillance technology to Egypt's government.
"Our job as a company is to give them the system. I train the government how to run it and we give them the programme," Miniesy said.
The article also quoted an Egyptian state official who said "See Egypt has already worked with the government and has strong ties to the State Security Services."
"They were a natural choice and their system is already winning praise," the source added.
In early June, news emerged that Egypt's interior ministry had submitted a request for proposal (RFP) for an online surveillance programme for the purpose of tracking security threats like terrorism as well as attacks on religion and public morality.
It insisted surveillance would only include public media and that private accounts would only be accessed upon court order.
Miniesy, speaking with BuzzFeed News, acknowledged that his company had submitted a tender to provide the surveillance technology to Egypt's government but did not confirm whether it had been accepted or not.
In response to the ministry's leaked RFP, rights group Amnesty International said the requested surveillance programme would "deal a devastating blow to the rights to privacy and freedom of expression in the country."
"Amnesty International recognises that in some cases, states may legitimately need to resort to targeted covert surveillance for reasons of national security. However, indiscriminate mass surveillance is an unnecessary and disproportionate interference with the right to privacy," said Amnesty's statement issued at the time.