Egypt has blocked access to at least 21 news sites critical of the government, notably the Qatari channel Al-Jazeera, Huffington Post’s Arabic-language site HuffPost Arabi and the independent website Mada Masr.
The campaign, which the reports call Nile Phish, coincides with an unprecedented crackdown on civil society in Egypt over the past few years, with non-governmental organizations and their staff being subjected to interrogations, arrests, travel bans, asset freezes, forced closures and a long-running trial over accusations of receiving foreign funding to destabilize the country.
Although the police in Cairo sealed off parts of the Egyptian capital where protests scheduled on Facebook were to have taken place on Monday, opposition activists managed to stage brief rallies that resembled flash mobs, calling for an end to military rule and the cancellation of a deal to surrender two islands to Saudi Arabia.The fact that Facebook is now so closely monitored by the security forces prompted one leading activist to offer an online tutorial in how to use a new tool, the encrypted messaging app Signal, to help protesters find each other on the city’s streets, and stay one step ahead of the authorities.
CAIRO — It’s been four years since a popular uprising known as the Arab Spring forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign, and yet leading information activists say that government surveillance is getting worse, not better.
The establishment of the High Council for Cyber Crime by decree of the Prime Minister on Dec. 14 cemented control of already tightly constrained Internet activity in Egypt, according to Ramy Raoof, one of the founders of Motoon, a new organization that provides information security consulting to non-governmental organizations and private companies. “The whole idea of [the Cyber Crime Council] is to make repression clearer and organized for the state,” he says.
The High Council for Cyber Crime is headed by Atef Holmi, the minister of Communications and Information Technology, and brings together top officials from across the Egyptian government, including the Ministries of Interior and Defense. Its sweeping mandate is “to fight threats in cyberspace.”
In the past, divisions between competing state bodies, whether ministries or institutions like the military, impeded cooperation in spying on and cracking down on civilian opponents. “Within the security agencies, they don’t share much information,” Raoof says. “They might share what they know, but not how they know it.”
The announcement of the formation of the High Council for Cyber Crime is part of a broader government shift toward greater surveillance on opposition figures and activists, according to Raoof.
T companies asked to provide system which scans Facebook and Twitter for profanity, insults and incitements to protest
Egypt’s police force is seeking to build a surveillance system to monitor social media for expressions of dissent – including profanity, immorality, insults and calls for strikes and protests.
According to a leaked document in which technology companies are invited to offer their services, Egypt’s interior ministry says it wants the ability to scan Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Viber in real-time for usage that might “harm public security or incite terrorism”.
The ministry asks the unnamed companies for a system that could dredge up “vocabulary which is contrary to law and public morality”. According to the document, this would include “degrading and acerbic ridicule; slander; insult; the use of profanity”, incitement of “extremism, violence and rebellion … demonstrations, sit-ins and illegal strikes”; and “pornography and decadence; immorality and debauchery, and the publication of ways to manufacture explosives”.
The leak drew immediate criticism from Egyptian rights activists and digital experts.