The Egyptian parliament approved on Monday a new government-drafted law that targets cybercrimes in an initial vote.
The 45-article law, titled the Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law, is focused on combating the danger of extremist and terrorist organisations using the internet to carry out terrorist attacks or destabilise the country.
""All of the law's 45 articles were approved in general, but as we do not have a two-thirds majority right now as required by the constitution, the final vote on this law will be postponed to a later date," parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said.
“The debate in the House of Representatives on the above law came only after it took a sufficient time of study and discussion in government and parliamentary circles," he said.
"It also came after we sought the opinion of the National Council for Human Rights and the State Council which agreed that the law goes in line with the constitution," Abdel-Aal said.
Nidal El-Saeed, head of parliament's telecommunications and information technology committee, said the law was drafted in a way that guarantees a balance between the illegal abuse of the internet and securing the use of state and private statements, data and information systems.
According to El-Saeed, the first ten articles of the new law define commonly used concepts such as "website, traffic date, digital directory, personal statements and national security."
Article two regulates the activities of ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and their obligations to provide national security authorities with information and technical assistance necessary to help them do their jobs.
The cybercrime bill will also permit local or foreign websites involved in broadcasting "statement, figures, photos, pictures, films or any other material that might pose a threat to national security" to be blocked.
Article three states that the law also covers foreigners who commit any of the crimes targeted by its articles as long as this crime was carried out on an Egyptian air, land or maritime means of transport, that this crime led to the killing of an Egyptian, that it was committed by a criminal gang targeting Egypt and other countries, or that the perpetrator of the crime was arrested in Egypt.
Article four obliges state authorities to reach bilateral agreements with as many foreign countries as possible on fighting cybercrimes and exchanging information in this respect.
Articles five and six state that officials who will be responsible for implementing the law will be granted judicial powers that will help them tighten the grip on cybercrimes.
Article seven also states that investigation authorities will be authorised to block any websites or online activities only after they get strong evidence that these websites are involved in broadcasting material that poses a threat to national security.
Owners of websites can appeal the block decision before the affiliated criminal court.
Article nine states that the prosecutor-general is authorised to ban defendants accused of cybercrimes from travelling abroad.
The law's first chapter on penalties, including articles from 14 to 22, covers crimes focused on assaulting information technology systems and grids.
Article 20 imposes a fine ranging from EGP 50,000 to EGP 200,000 and a two-year prison sentence on persons convicted of assaulting information systems affiliated with the state.
The second chapter, including articles 24 and 25, tackles crimes committed by information systems and technologies, and crimes related to emails.
Persons found guilty of creating an email or private account or a website in the name of another person or institution will be sentenced to three months in prison and fined between EGP 10,000 and EGP 30,000.
Chapter three covers penalties imposed on assaulting private lives; chapter four deals with managers who set up, use and administer certain websites or accounts for the purpose of committing certain crimes.
Chapter five, including articles 31 to 34, details the criminal responsibility of ISPs.
The remaining articles cover cybercrimes which target national security, national unity and social peace.
Penalties in this respect will be much tougher, including hard labour prison terms.
MPs seized discussion of the law to open fire on social websites, especially Facebook.
Saad El-Gammal, head of the Arab affairs committee, said "these should rather be called the socially destructive websites,"
"This is true as we now see that terrorist organisations have become so skilful in using social websites to destabilise countries and spread chaos," he added.
Osama Sharshar, an independent MP, said the law should be directed to fight "the electronic militias of the banned group the Muslim Brotherhood."
"These militias are very active and more dangerous than the group's armed and military militias, and so the penalties in this law should be tough enough to disqualify the electronic arms of this group," Sharshar said.