Founding of state cyber-security body worries digital rights activists

Zeinab El-Gundy , Friday 19 Dec 2014

The High Council for Cyber-Security was established by the prime minister this week

Internet user
Internet user (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Egyptian activists are concerned that a new government body set up to fight potential cyber-attacks represents an entrenchment of a security approach to digital information.

Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab on Tuesday issued a decree founding the High Council for Cyber-Security in Egypt, to generate a national strategy to combat cyber-attacks.

"The idea of the council doesn't reflect a proper approach to internet governance and its basic principles for managing a decentralised medium,” said Ramy Raoof, a prominent Egyptian digital rights and security researcher who has worked with a number of local human rights organisations and civil society groups.

According to Raoof, the plan shows that the state’s mentality when it comes to the digital and ICT sphere is a “security approach instead of a net neutrality approach.”

"It is consistent with the state’s approach over the past seven years, to expand their resources in digital surveillance and to facilitate violating digital liberties and privacy in the name of fighting terrorism" and defending security, Raoof told Ahram Online. Similar concerns were widely expressed on Twitter.

Earlier this year, Egyptian and US-based news websites published leaked documents showing the interior ministry had contracted the Egyptian sister company of an US-based online security firm to monitor Egypt's electronic communications and social media networks. 

One document showed that the ministry had requested a tool that could search for vocabulary that “is contrary to law and public morality” citing slander, insult, profanity, extremism and immorality as targets for the surveillance.

The news caused widespread controversy.

In September the ministry denied that it contracted any firm to monitor social media networks.

Sherif Hasham, the head of the cyber security affairs section at the National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, told Reuters' Aswat Masriya this week that the newly founded cyber-security council has no relation with citizens' privacy.

"It is only concerned with cyber-security infrastructure," he said, adding that some ministries such as the defence ministry and the electricity ministry would need a security strategy to protect them in case of cyber-attacks.

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

The minister of telecommunications, Atef Helmy, announced on Thursday that the council would start its work next week. 

It will be headed by Helmy and will include representatives from the ministries of defence, interior, foreign affairs, oil, electricity, health, water sources, and food supply, as well as representatives of the general intelligence services and the Central Bank of Egypt.

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