A Facebook page is displayed on a computer screen in Brussels April 21, 2010. REUTERS/Thierry Roge
CAIRO – 15 March 2018: In facing the wide spread fake news that threatens national security and the interests of the state; Egypt has proposed various practical measures and anti-cybercrime laws aiming to curb premeditated fake information.
Hotline to report on ‘fake news and rumors’
Egypt’s Public prosecution announced on Monday the launch of a new hotline for citizens to gather complaints of “fake” news that is published in traditional media outlets or digital media platforms, which aims to impose a threat to national security.
“A set of mobile telephone numbers are assigned to receive complaints on the instant messaging on WhatsApp application and by SMS; The sent messages should contain all information available on the reported fake news,” according to a statement released by the office of the public prosecutor.
Planned Egyptian Facebook to protect data and information
In another protective measure, Minister of Communications and Information Technology Yasser el-Kady announced Egypt’s plan to have its own social media platform, which will be a competitor to Facebook, along with other applications and programs to protect the data and information.
“After the January 25 Revolution, extremist groups have been able to attract the youth with personality disorders through technological means, so we had to control different social media and digital apps and platforms,” Qadi revealed during the “Combat Terrorism” workshop, a two-day workshop held by the Ministry of Justice for judges and prosecutors to raise their technological awareness.
Qadi added, “Some mobile applications offer a big chance for extremists to reveal all user data, his friends’ and family’s as well,” declaring that he does not use “Truecaller” for this reason.
Since the release of Truecaller, rumors of security issues have been hovering around it.
He added that the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology undertook the cybercrimes project in coordination with the Ministry of Justice.
Egyptian prominent figures call to censor Social media networks
While the government launches initiatives to curb the spread of fake news, prominent figures have directed calls to screen social media sites to protect the interests of society.
Grand Mufti Sheikh Shawki Allam warned that ideas spread on social media need to be screened, as many of which promote fake news, however the society should be able to benefit from the other uses of social media.
Allam said that parents should follow-up their children while surfing social media to protect them from false ideas and offer guidance to the right information, but not to impose some sort of control, in an interview with ON Live on Friday.
Moreover, a number of Egyptian parliamentarians called on the government to practice censorship on social media in Egypt. The MPs who introduced the idea also called for launching awareness campaigns to make Egyptians aware of Facebook’s dangerous effect on society.
Parliament approves new amendments to anti-cybercrime law
The Egyptian Parliament’s Telecommunications and Information Technology Committee came out on Wednesday with new amendments to the government’s anti-cybercrime law.
The amendments include setting a six-month imprisonment and a fine not less than LE 100,000 ($5,670) and not more than LE 500,000 for anyone found to be deliberately tinkering with an internet connection.
In mid-February, the Cabinet referred a draft anti-cybercrime law to Parliament for discussion, which included posing surveillance on social media and limiting the spread of fake news, particularly news inciting violence.
The long-awaited draft law was sent to Parliament to be discussed, as the law has an indispensable role in dealing with the rumors that are not easily monitored on social media.
First introduced before Parliament in May 2016, the 33-article draft law was proposed to criminalize illegal electronic practices, such as electronic fraud and encouraging terrorist practices; however, activists and rights defenders perceive the penalties stipulated by the law as very harsh and as a restriction of the freedom of expression, according to various news outlets.
The punishments in the draft law range from a month in prison to the death penalty, should, in the latter case, the cybercrime result in the death of someone or be considered a threat to national security. The law also stipulates other penalties, such as blocking sites and canceling their licenses according to court judgments.
Foreign media outlets publish fabricated news to achieve political motives
The new anti-cybercrime laws and initiatives come in the light of multiple reports that have recently been published by foreign media outlets; Egyptian authorities have accused these outlets of spreading false news and having political motives.
In the last incident, the BBC published a report showed an Egyptian woman named Mona Mahmoud Ahmed, also known as Zubeida’s mother, accusing the police of kidnapping her daughter. In a TV interview conducted by renowned anchor Amr Adib, Zubeida refuted claims about her "forced disappearance."
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said, during a UN meeting, that foreign media publish fabricated news to achieve political motives.
The head of the State Information Service (SIS) Diaa Rashwan urged the BBC during the meeting to take all possible administrative procedures to amend the distortion caused by the false report.
Additionally, The New York Times published an article, penned by David Kirkpatrick, titled “Tapes Reveal Egyptian Leaders’ Tacit Acceptance of Jerusalem Move”. The story alleged that a so-called intelligence officer named Ashraf el-Kholi had conversations with four “influential TV hosts” with the aim of promoting the U.S. plan to make Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Shortly after the publication of the story, Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS) released a statement refuting the lies of the American newspaper.
Journalist’s prospects with cybercrime laws
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) previously considered cybercrime bill restrict freedom of expression which is a basic right in a democratic society. They said that the Egyptian authorities have been blocking hundreds of websites on claims that they “support terrorism.”
On other hand, Combating fake news is encouraged and supported by most of national journalists and reporters, but they also called to ease access to right information from the government.
Though the Constitutional Article 68 dictates that ”information, data, statistics, and official documents are the property of the People and the disclosure thereof from their various sources is a right guaranteed by the State for all citizens,” Egyptian journalists have always endorsed the difficulty of reaching the right information from the authorized sources.