Egyptian rights and civil society groups are criticising a cybercrime law currently being drafted in the country, saying it has high potential for abuse and imposes excessive sentences against violators.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Support for Information Technology Centre, and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression published on Tuesday a report on the bill titled "Antagonising Technology."
The report said that the draft law, presented by MP Tamer El-Shahawy in May to the House of Representatives' complaints and suggestions committee, was presented to parliament amid “non-transparency and the exclusion of civil society.”
According to the report, the law mandates prison terms that are harsher than those for similar crimes committed through other means, including punishments for "blasphemy" and "inciting to protest."
"The [bill] violates equality in front of the law, as it punishes for acts committed on the internet with sentences much harsher – reaching life in jail and death sentences – than those [for the same crimes] committed through other means," the statement read.
Former information minister Khaled Negm had stressed on the need for the cybercrime law last year when the cabinet had approved the bill amid escalating attacks by militants.
Negm had said the law aims at fighting extremist ideas on social media, in addition to hacking and piracy.
Potential tool for suppression and injustice?
"The draft law consists of mostly partial articles that are poorly worded and vague," the rights groups said in their statement.
For example, articles 12, 13 and 26 stipulate possible prison terms for information technology systems managers, where IT officials can be jailed if a successful cyber attack is carried out on the computer systems they are managing.
"These articles [12, 13 and 26] make the job of the information systems management – which is present in every modern economic, services and governmental institution – a crime by law," the statement read.
The draft law also allows prosecutors to ask courts to block internet content if it "threatens national security" (articles 14 and 15), with the report arguing that this can be used to suppress information from the Egyptian public in the name of national security.
Harsher sentences for 'internet crimes'
The report said articles 11 and 23 are "the most dangerous in the law," according to the statement, as they punish actions that “threaten public order” with sentences that reach life in jail if committed on the internet.
The statement said that according to this law, "inciting to protest becomes a more serious crime than protesting itself."
A November 2013 law imposes sentences that vary between one year and seven years in jail for those protesting without government permission.
Blasphemy also carries a sentence of life in jail according to the cybercrime law, versus a five-year sentence if the same crime is committed on satellite TV.
"It also puts everyone who works in online journalism in greater danger than other journalists, who are already threatened," the statement read.