28 Sep 2014

A Spotlight on Digital Security and Online Privacy Scene in Egypt

As I prepare for this blogpost now listening to “sexy and I know it” track, I think of Big Brother listening to the track with me, and hoping he doesn't arrest me for “Poor musical taste”, and recently it's not just me, but everyone in the 89M Egypt's population should be thinking about that, Why?
That's what I'm here for...

Sir Tim Beners-lee (The world wide web inventor) has recently called for a new Magna-Carta for online privacy (Magna carta is a charter that was written in 1215 and accepted by King John of England, and is considered the basis of individual rights and a part of the English Constitution where there is no written constitution)
http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/03/12/us-internet-bernerslee-idUKBREA2B0PC20140312

Egyptian Ministry of Interior (MOI) has issued earlier this year (May 2014) an advertising calling for a bid on companies working on surveillance software to help it develop its online surveillance on the Social Media platforms as well as common personal communication software like (Whatsapp and Viber), to maintain a stronger grip on what it called “People who Disturb the public safety” and “Users who spread destructive ideas” and Stated a list of the activities it considered “disturbing for public safety and public standards of morality” (Found here http://www.elwatannews.com/news/details/495659 ) The project was called “Security risks monitoring to social media project– The Public opinion measurement system”, and Later it was declared that a company called “Systems Engineering of Egypt” has won the bid (A daughter company for the American based Blue Coat Systems) beating out the British Gamma System, and the Israeli-founded Narus System. (Ref. Buzz feed News).

MOI has stated in its previously mentioned issuing that the axes of its project were “Tracking, Monitoring, analysis, as well as execution, combating, and denial on one hand, and the ability to perform periodical checks and polls that enables it to know the amount of youth affected by a specific idea or a group of ideas that they consider “destructive”, and that are published over the Social media networks, and to interact with that informative and enlightened more patriotic youth, to track down the destructive ideas spread over social media, and discuss ways for refuting and combating them”

The methodology they stated for doing that was:
- Search for idioms and keywords that are considered illegal or outside the “publicly known traditions and bonds” (No, Egypt does not have a booklet of socially normative behavior, so “Publicly known” isn't exactly specified here!)

- Provide an analytical tool for the Opinions and directions of the social media members, where special statistics will be performed regarding the Most popular topics as well as what directions prevails in these discussions and what don't. (That is shortly, Monitoring Everything w/ statistics)
- Decision making assistance, and future focus on the reports that will help take these decisions.

- “The Security risk monitoring system” is a Central system, related to research destinations and integrated with the Security system destinations in the MOI.

- Improving the performance of the Monitoring system staff via trainings

- Provide progressive technical assistance.
- Database protection, so it's impermeable by every newly developed hacking system.

- (Again) The analysis of all the security information that comes from the Monitoring system reports.

The publication was very unspecific and the discourse used by the MOI Officials never denied such an attempt for privacy invasion, on the contrary.
On the other hand, Online Privacy and Open knowledge activists and bloggers, wrote about the threats such decision makes on Freedom of Speech and Expression, as well as stating the previous history of Internet governance practices, such bloggers like : Ramy Raoof (Article) and Ahmed Ezzat (Article) mentioned previous incidences that dates back before the 2011 Rev. and after the rev. till now, as well as stating basic Q&A style on what privacy is and what's the difference between Censorship and surveillance...etc.

Moreover the Twitter community has launched a parody hashtag (#إحنا_متراقبين - #مخبرك_الخاص) (#We're watched – #Your private informant) as well as the recent hashtag of (#ضد_المراقبة) (Against surveillance) on 28 september 2014, alongside a petition/site protesting the Repressive maneuver. (Privacy Egypt)

It is also worthy of mentioning that MOI has been performing Mass arrests on LGBT (Specially Gays) community using Applications like Grindr (an android application for Gay dating) to set traps for them, sentencing them under allegations of prostitution and debauchery. Latest was arrest over a Youtube video of a Gay Marriage Celebration on a Nile felluca, and the notorious El youm el sabea' (youm7) Newspaper publishing full info and photos of the arrested people, not just for that case, but also all the other cases.

This puts a MAJOR threat on LGBT Bloggers and even regular (non-active) members of the community, which fueled the trigger to launch the Hashtag and an Online Blogging campaign aiming to “Protest the Arrest of LGBT” (#ضد_حبس_المثليين) since as Scott long puts it “You practically can’t have sex these days unless you own at least a smartphone.”

I wonder though what the Same security system is going to track from the MOI Officials themselves, knowing that in the past months alone there has been over 11 law suits against police officers (high and low ranks) accused of various crimes from Harassment and Rape all the way to Desecration of a Man's corpse (Also posted on Youtube)!


P.S. Upon discussing such a topic, I mean to discuss the Egyptian position as a part of the Whole messed up situations across the Globe, It is worthy of mentioning that US, Russian and Chinese Governments represent the Empires of Internet surveillance and monitoring, one can only put it in similarity with George Orwell's image of OCEANIA, where:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Further Reading
- Scott long Blog: Paper-bird.net
- Ramy Raoof: “Simplifying the Interior Ministry’s quest for surveillance: In Qs and As” on Mada Masr
- Ahmed Ezzat: "ما الجديد في الرقابة على الإنترنت في مصر؟" on Mada Masr

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