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Egypt court authority recommends dismissal of case against govt surveillance programme

Ahram Online , Sunday 25 Sep 2016

Egypt's State Commissioners Authority recommended on Sunday that the administrative court dismiss a case challenging a controversial government decision made earlier this year to introduce a new security system designed to monitor social networking sites.

The case was filed in June by a number of Egyptian human rights groups against the interior ministry’s decision to implement a social media surveillance programme to track “security threats” including terrorism, explosives manufacturing and assassination operations.

The court authority said in its report that while the case argued that the proposed system undermines rights and freedoms guaranteed in constitution, "such rights and freedoms are contingent on not exceeding legal limits or undermining national security or public order."

The report argued that freedom of opinion and expression requires regulation amid attempts on social media to “incite against the state.”

It said the planned security system, which had sparked public outrage on social media websites, "empowers the police to perform its constitutional and legal role to preserve public order and general security and curb crimes."

The system, the report says, does not amount to an invasion of people's personal accounts or data, as it would merely involve the monitoring of publicly available information.

However, Al-Watan newspaper published in June information leaked from the interior ministry stating that the system would involve the monitoring of private communication platforms such as Viber and WhatsApp.

The leaks also revealed that the ministry intends to track online information about subjects it deems dangerous including contempt of religion, libel and defamation.

Observers say that the controversial system is meant to expand practices already in use by the country's security apparatus.

Authorities had previously arrested several suspects they claim set up Facebook pages used to incite violence against police and army forces, which have been targeted by an Islamist insurgency since the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

The government, however, has argued the system will operate within the law.

Egypt’s interior ministry under deposed president Hosni Mubarak was infamous for spying on citizens to quash political dissent.

In April, parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al said that the chamber should pass legislation that regulates Facebook and other social networking websites to prosecute users who pose threats to national security.

The parliament is expected to discuss the matter later this year.

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