A member of the Egyptian parliament has proposed a bill that would tighten the government’s control over its citizen’s usage of all major social media platforms.
The bill proposed by Reyad Abdel Sattar of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, would require Egyptians to register with the government to access social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, CNN reports. Successful applicants would receive a login linked to their national ID. While unauthorized use could result in prison sentences and heavy fines.
Supporters of the bill say it will strengthen national security by tracking users who use social media to support or promote terrorism, according to the Al-Monitor and it will also deter the usage of social media to criticize state figures like President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and institutions like the judiciary and military.
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In an interview he granted to local newspaper Egypt independent, Abdel Sattar said when passed, the new bill would: “facilitate state surveillance over social networks in Egypt by making users enroll in a government-run electronic system that will grant them permission to access Facebook.”
Abdel Sattar, whose party is the largest in parliament with 65 of 596 seats, claims to have the support of 60 of his fellow MPs and said the bill is now scheduled for review by parliamentary committees.
The bill has however been condemned by local civil advocacy groups and rights activists. Wafa-Ben Hassine of digital rights group Access Now said it will have a “big impact by controlling what people say and don’t say.”
“Government issued IDs are linked to a plethora of activities including driving, banking, and medical services so the government will have much more information about users’ whereabouts,” he said.
Egypt’s April 6th Youth Movement also slammed the proposal: “Unfortunately these ideas are outdated…The whole world has gone beyond the idea of banning the Internet,” the movement said in a statement.
Still others have dismissed the bill for its sheer impracticability, cyber security experts say policing an online platform like Facebook would be near impossible and resource intensive. They say tech savvy users could always find a way around any government imposed firewall.
“One-third of Egyptians use Facebook so about 30 million people would be submitting requests for permission,” says Access Now’s Ben-Hassine. “I doubt the Egyptian government has the capacity to do that. The sheer bureaucratic weight of the initiative is not feasible.”
The ease of connectivity over social media platforms like Facebook played a key role in the Egyptian “Arab Spring” revolution that brought down the government of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and successive governments since then have sought to impose stricter control and surveillance over the use of social media.
CNN reports that under the current government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, state surveillance of social media has reached new heights. Hundreds of pages belonging to Egyptian opposition have been shut down while scores of social media users have been imprisoned for expressing dissenting views.