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Monitoring social media will not be permitted without legal grounds: Official

Egypt's head of internet prosecution assures that social media surveillance will not harm freedom of expression

Ahram Online, Thursday 5 Jun 2014
Monitoring Social Media
A person holds a magnifying glass over a computer screen displaying Twitter logos, in this picture illustration taken in Skopje September 10, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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Monitoring social media will not be tolerated without legal permission from the general prosecution, the head of internet prosecution, Mohamed Abu Zeid, told Al-Ahram daily newspaper.

In an interview published Thursday, Abu Zeid stressed that the interior ministry will not monitor any social media accounts unless the ministry has clear cause to investigate the owner of an account for engaging in terrorist operations.   

Abu Zeid also said that the ministry will be using a programme used in countries such as the UK, US, France, Germany and other countries to track online security threats such as terrorism, explosives manufacturing and assassination operations.

"I assure all Egyptians that the new monitoring system does not contradict with the freedom of expression of anyone," said Abu Zeid.

Abu Zeid explained that the programme is an advanced technical mechanism that detects security threats.

Throughout the past week, interior ministry officials defended a planned social networking surveillance programme after a local newspaper leaked a request proposal drawn up by the ministry for a system to "detect social network security threats and identify persons representing a danger to society." 

Abu Zeid added that the programme will help security personnel to reach terrorists easily.   

Abu Zeid explained that the interior ministry will get judicial authorisation from the general prosecution to investigate suspects detected by the programme that have published harmful content concerning public security.

Meanwhile, the general administrative secretary to the internet prosecution, Mohamed Abdel-Wahed, told Al-Ahram daily newspaper that in the past two months they were able to arrest around 200 terrorists who participated in the Daqahliya terrorist attack and the Cairo University bomb blast that took place earlier this year.

Abdel-Wahed confirmed that these terrorist groups communicated via the internet.

"The ministry succeeded to detect and close about 250 websites that were inciting acts of violence against police and military personnel," said Abdel-Wahed.

The interior ministry says the programme will operate in accordance with the law.

The leaked programme caused outrage on social media websites as users took aim at the wide-ranging targets it wants to track, which include — aside from terrorist activity — insults to religion, public opinion and traditions, as well as content against public norms and an array of other content the ministry deems negative.

Egyptian police have already announced that they monitor social networking websites and have arrested many suspects they claim have set up Facebook pages used to incite violence against police and army forces targeted by militant groups since the violent dispersal of Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins during August 2013.

Egypt has no laws regulating the use of digital information or online privacy.  

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