No-one wants to get ripped off online, there’s no doubt that both the incidence and risk of digital crime are growing exponentially.  So you would think that any legislation designed to protect the innocent web user and punish the cyber criminal would be broadly welcomed by most.

In theory, this is true, but in reality legislation designed to ‘protect’ people online rarely does this.   One of the main issues with policing the internet is that most crimes take place across international borders.  This causes a very obvious problem in trying to catch the culprit or protect the innocent from them,

For example there’s a huge number of cyber criminal gangs based in Brazil who steal and attack targets all across the world.  If your bank account or credit card is abused from a sophisticated hacker based in a flat in Rio de Janerio you can imagine how the investigation will go when you report it to PC 413 from the Salford Constabulary.   It’s not the polices fault entirely, laws and legislation simply don’t support the easy investigation or arrest of cyber crime unless there stupid enough to do it from the same country.

So when we hear about Egypt introducing a huge raft of legislation, designed to combat cyber crime you think we’d all be pleased?    Unfortunately not, and it’s generating a huge level of protest within the country itself and across the world among human rights groups.  the problem though is not that it’s likely to be ineffective, which it is. It’s mainly because the legislation allows carte blanche for the Government and it’s agencies to use the laws, powers and penalties against pretty much anybody they want including both religious and political opponents.

Take for example this – Article 27, a web administrator who creates, manages, or uses a website or a private account with the aim of committing or facilitating a crime can face imprisonment of not less than two years and/or a fine of between 100,000 and 300,000 Egyptian pounds.

As per usual in countries like Egypt, the laws are strict but in many aspects very vague meaning it’s a simple task for police or state security to invent some reason to pick up anyone who puts anything online. The target is supposedly crime but in reality it’s an attempt to control the flow of information and opinions online. Closing areas of debate such as social media and discussion forums is a classic attempt to do this. Even if people are brave enough to continue to speak online, the webmasters will be extremely wary of letting anyone do so.

It’s not cyber criminals who are worried about the Egyptian Cybercrime and Media Regulation Laws it’s anyone who wants to preserve freedom of speech in Egypt. The Egyptian government has of course got previous form for this behaviour, they are frequently accused of blocking and closing websites based on political or religious reasons. Although the real reason is difficult to ascertain as it’s often simply not published or released.

The steps go further however, as the Cybercrime Law also seems to authorize the mass surveillance of all forms of communication online in Egypt. It forces the ISPs to keep customer usage data for 180 days. This includes things like web browsing, phone calls, text messages and emails. In order to complete the spying it covers application on smartphones and computers to cover the various messaging applications available on these platforms too.

Many Egyptians already are careful online and indeed lots use VPNs to protect themselves as a matter of course. They also use things like this Smart DNS system to access the BBC iPlayer abroad, there’s a free trial here if you want to test it. The laws around mass surveillance are especially restrictive though, allowing rights of access to all sorts of organisations. The Egyptian government doesn;t seem to mind that the law is already being criticised as it violates many of Egypt’s existing constitution including Article 57 which states that nothing should impinge on the rights to privacy of Egyptian citizens.

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