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Egypt: Parliamentary Committee Approves Anti-cybercrime Draft Law

(May 7, 2018) On April 16, 2018, the Communications and Information Technology Committee of the Egyptian Parliament (Council of Representatives) approved a draft law submitted by the Prime Minister’s cabinet to combat cybercrime. (Khalid Hassan, Egypt’s Parliament Moves Forward on Anti-Cybercrime Law, AL-MONITOR (Apr. 19, 2018).)

Text of the Draft Law

Article 2 of the draft law regulates the activities of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). It also requires that those providers supply national security authorities with information on users suspected of spreading terrorist and extremist ideologies via the internet. Gamal Essam El-Din, Egypt Getting a Grip on Cybercrime, AL-AHRAM (Mar. 23, 2018).) Article 34 criminalizes violation of the conditions laid out in Article 2. (Rana Mamdouh & Rania Al-Abd, Parliament in Haste to Approve Cybercrime Bill: Ambiguous Provisions, Loose Definitions, Legalized Web Censorship, MADAMASR (Mar. 14, 2018).)

Article 4 of the bill obliges the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to reach bilateral agreements covering Internet Technology (IT) and cybercrime with as many foreign governments as possible to block some websites in foreign countries. (Essam El-Din, supra.)

Article 7 grants the competent authority in charge of investigating cybercrimes the right to censor Egyptian-based or foreign websites that disseminate propaganda threatening national security or the national economy. (Hassan, supra; Hazem Adel, Get Acquainted with the Method of Censoring Websites Under the New Law on Combating Cybercrimes, AL-YOUM AL-SABE‘ (Apr. 12, 2018) (in Arabic).)

Article 8 gives customers and ISPs the right to appeal censorship decisions before the criminal court within seven days of censorship of the website. (Essam El-Din, supra.)

Article 11 provides for imprisonment of no less than three years and a fine of no less than 100,000 Egyptian pounds (LE) (about US$5,565) for those who establish a website with the aim of promoting the commission of crimes cited in the Penal Code or any other laws. (Marina Gamil, Cabinet Refers Draft Cybercrime Law to Parliament, EGYPT TODAY (Feb. 15, 2018).)

Article 14 states that anyone found guilty of illegally using the internet or other IT tools to access copyrighted content of audio-visual channels is to be punished with three months of imprisonment and a fine ranging from LE10,000 to 50,000 (about US$565 to 2,830). (Essam El-Din, supra.)

The penalties stipulated in article 21 include a term of imprisonment and a fine of LE 1 million–5 million (about US$56,630–283,160) upon conviction of logging into government sites and destroying, changing, copying, recording, or leaking any data, information, or accounts, regardless of the method used. (Mamdouh & Al-Abd, supra.)

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 (about US$1,700). (Essam El-Din, supra.)

Article 26 imposes the penalty of imprisonment for a period of no less than six months and a fine of LE50,000–100,000 (about US$2,830–5,565) on anyone who violates any of the so-called “family principles or values of Egyptian society,” which the law did not define or explain. (Hassan, supra.)

Article 30 of the draft law imposes the penalty of imprisonment for at least one year and/or a fine of LE20,000–200,000 (about US$1,130–11,325) on any individuals found to administer websites, e-mails, accounts, or information systems that commit any of the crimes stipulated in the law. Parliament’s Communications Committee Approves Cybercrimes Bill, DAILY NEWS EGYPT (Apr. 17, 2018).)

Under article 31, ISPs are subject to stricter punishments, which may include imprisonment of the owners of those providers in a maximum-security prison. The ISP is also punishable by a fine of LE3 million (about $US169,895) in the event that they refuse to comply with the decision of the competent authority to censor a website that is considered damaging to national security or has caused the death of one or more persons. (Mamdouh & Al-Abd, supra.)

Support for the Bill

Members of Parliament have defended the necessity of the draft law in fighting internet piracy, protecting information, and preventing abuses of technology. (Amira Al-Fekki, Internet Usage in Egypt Under State Regulation, DAILY NEWS EGYPT (Apr. 22, 2018).)

According to Kamal Amer, the head of the Parliament’s Defense and National Security Committee, the new bill would help combat the growing danger of extremist and militant Islamist movements that use the internet and modern technology to carry out terrorist attacks. The new law would also supplement the army’s comprehensive campaign against militant and terrorist groups in North Sinai. (Essam El-Din, supra.)

Criticism of the New Bill

Some writers voiced concerns that the draft law would impose limitations on liberties. They argue that the draft law aims to enhance state control over websites and establish a legal framework for blocking them while intimidating social media users. (Hassan, supra.) Fuad Abdelnaby, professor of constitutional law at Menoufia University, criticizes the draft law by stating that it contains loosely defined terms and vague content that make it easy to convict any person of “threatening national security,” “damaging family values,” or “affecting public morals” without giving a clear definition of these offenses. (Id.) Furthermore, Khaled al-Balshi, the former chief of the Freedoms Committee at the Press Syndicate said that the current regime believes social media poses a threat to its survival due to the absolute freedom social media provides. (Id.)