Parliament’s Telecommunications and Information Technology Committee has been busy discussing a new government-drafted law that seeks to target cybercrimes.
The 45-article bill — the Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law — is being discussed in closed-door meetings.
Because of its security implication the legislation — prepared by the ministries of justice and telecommunications and information technology — is being discussed with representatives of 19 ministries, including interior and defence, says committee head Nidal Al-Said.
“The new bill has been designed to help combat the growing danger of extremist and militant Islamist movements using the Internet and modern technology to carry out terrorist attacks,” Kamal Amer, head of parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee and a former Military Intelligence chief, told reporters.
The Internet is a major tool in recruiting extremists and launching terrorist and subversive attacks, says Amer, adding the proposed legislation gives powers to the Interior Ministry and other state institutions to track websites and social media accounts involved in spreading extremist ideologies.
“The new law supplements the army’s comprehensive campaign against militant and terrorist groups in North Sinai,” said Amer.
“It also complements the new draft press and media law which penalises unlicensed online activity and content violations such as fake news.”
The prosecutor-general announced this week that hotlines would be set up for members of the public to report “false news and rumours” published by media outlets and on social media websites that undermine national security.
“The new law, says Amer, will similarly help guard “against premeditated false news that aims to undermine security, terrorise citizens and damage public interests.”
According to Al-Said, the first 10 articles in the new law define commonly used concepts such as “websites, traffic data, digital directory, personal statements and national security”.
Article 2 regulates ISPs activities and their obligation to provide national security authorities with information on users suspected of spreading terrorist and extremist ideologies via the Internet.
While some committee members are pushing for the revelation of private details of Internet customers to be conditional on the issuing of a judicial order, Al-Said says officials from the defence and interior ministries want ISPs to supply details on demand.
“They want information including the user’s name, nationality, home address, e-mail address, telephone number and call records, social media accounts and any other details the national security authorities deem relevant,” said Al-Said.
Providers will be also obliged to offer technical help to national security institutions to enable them to exercise their responsibilities in a way that safeguards the country against threats.
The cybercrime bill will also permit local or foreign websites involved in broadcasting “statements, figures, photos, pictures, films or any other material that might pose a threat to national security” to be blocked, says Al-Said.
“Since blocking some websites requires technical cooperation with foreign countries, Article 4 of the bill obliges the ministries of foreign affairs and international cooperation to reach bilateral agreements covering IT and cybercrime with as many foreign governments as possible,” he added.
Mohamed Hegazi, an advisor to the Ministry of Telecommunications, says “the legislation stipulates that a decision to block can be taken only if there is strong evidence that a website is actively involved in activities harmful to national security.”
Interior Ministry officials say 2,000 social media accounts implicated in disseminating extremist ideologies, spreading harmful rumours and preparing terrorist attacks have already been closed.
Article 8 of the draft gives customers and ISPs the right to appeal any blocking order in the appropriate criminal court within seven days of closure.
Article 9 authorises the prosecutor-general to place anyone suspected of cybercrimes on travel ban and arrival watch lists, a decision which can be appealed before the courts within 15 days.
The draft law also seeks to tackle piracy, particularly when it comes to sports broadcasts. Article 14 states that anyone found guilty of illegally using the Internet or other IT tools to access copyrighted content of audio-visual channels will face up to three months in prison and a fine ranging from LE10,000 to LE50,000.
Justice Ministry official Haitham Al-Bakli said the purpose of the article was to clamp down on companies that profit from helping citizens use TV cables to illegally access scrambled sports channels. He argues the fines should be increased to at least 100,000.
Anyone guilty of illegally interfering with e-mails, websites or social media accounts could face six months in prison and a fine of up to LE200,000, according to Article 19.
Under Article 25 anyone found guilty of breaching privacy by hacking e-mails or social accounts or creating false e-mails, websites and accounts could face three months in jail and a fine of up to LE30,000.
Article 26 of the draft stipulates that undermining familial values and the principles of Egyptian society or violating the private lives of citizens by sending them unsolicited e-mails without their prior consent could carry a six-month jail sentence and a fine of between LE50,000 and LE100,000.
*This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly