Egypt's parliament to discuss banning Facebook, citing 'national security'

Egypt's parliament to discuss banning Facebook, citing 'national security'
3 min read
05 April, 2016
The speaker of Egypt's parliament has approved a request to discuss a law regulating the use of social media to 'protect the country's national security'.
Egypt's parliament will discuss a new bill to regulate the use of social media [Bloomberg]

Egypt's parliament is set to discuss a new bill to regulate the use of social media after an MP made a request to the Speaker in a plenary session.

MP Gamal Abdel Nasser said in a statement during Monday's session that social media had "crossed all the red lines", calling on interior minister Magdi Abdel Ghaffar and telecommunications minister Yasser al-Qadi to intervene and limit Facebook particularly, in order, ostensibly, to protext Egypt's national security.

"The West has sold us this 'Facebook' to extort us and launch an assault on our personal and national security freedoms," he said, according to Ahram Online.

Abdel Nasser also called for the arrest and trial of those who "violate" the privacy of others or use social media to "spread rumours" or to defame others.

Cairo officials have been infamously flexible over defining contentious terms such as "national security" and "terrorism", with thousands of members of political opposition groups locked up.

If passed, the new law will require social media users to add information from their national IDs.

Abdel Nasser's request came only a few hours after Egypt's prosecutors ordered the arrest of Khaled al-Balshi, the head of the freedom committee at the journalists' syndicate, on charges of inciting protests and disturbing public peace through social media networks.

The arrest warrant against Balshy, who has been actively involved in several initiatives in solidarity with detained journalists, was based on a complaint filed by the interior minister's assistant for legal affairs.

According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the complaint involved the content of Balshy's blogs, and statements posted on his Facebook account.

"The pace of prosecuting opinion makers has remarkably escalated that no one could be spared from it, whether writers, internet users, human rights defenders, or even journalists themselves," ANHRI said in a statement on Monday.

The pace of prosecuting opinion makers has remarkably escalated that no one could be spared from it, whether writers, internet users, human rights defenders, or even journalists themselves
- ANHRI

On Friday, a Reuters report revealed that Egyptian authorities had recently blocked Facebook's Free Basics internet service, when the company refused to allow the government to spy on its users.

Launched in Egypt in October, Free Basics was aimed at low-income customers, allowing anyone with a cheap computer or smartphone to create a Facebook account and access a strictly limited set of internet services at no charge.

Mohamed Hanafi, a spokesman for Egypt's telecommunications ministry, declined to comment specifically on the allegation about surveillance demands, but cited other reasons for Free Basics to be blocked.

"The service was offered free of charge to the consumer, and the national telecommunication regulator saw the service as harmful to companies and their competitors," he told Reuters.

Several media outlets reported in June 2014 that the interior ministry was devising a mass surveillance programme that placed all means of communications - including private online messages - under the ministry's scrutiny, without the need for a warrant.