EIPR Submits Memo on Article 65 of Communications Bill to MPs

Press Release

15 December 2002

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) submitted a memo prepared by its Right to Privacy Program to a group of Members of Parliament (MPs) today regarding Article 65 of the new Communication Bill.

The People's Assembly approved the bill on principle in its 14 December session despite concerns voiced by several MPs over negative implications the proposed bill would have on the right to privacy of communications.

"We salute all MPs who raised their voices during the hearing in defense of personal rights," the EIPR said in a letter addressed to MPs and enclosed with the memo. "We call on parliamentarians to continue to work until the text of Article 65 is amended." The People's Assembly is scheduled to debate and vote on the content of each of the bill's 92 articles this week.

Article 65 of the bill imposes sever restrictions on the use of encryption techniques. The proposed text allows individuals to encrypt their communications only after obtaining a written authorization from the National Apparatus for Communications, the Military Forces, and national security apparatuses (President's Office, Ministry of the Interior and National Security Authority. The bill stipulates a penalty of up to three years of imprisonment and a fine of L.E10,000-100,000 (ca. 2250-22,500 Euro) for the violation of this article. The same article allows the Military Forces, Ministry of the Interior and National Security Authority to access any communications network "in fulfillment of national security needs."

"This article, if approved without amendment, will certainly add the Communications Law to the long list of undemocratic laws in Egypt," said Hossam Bahgat, Program director of the EIPR.

The memo traces the right to privacy of communications in the Egyptian Constitution, domestic legislation and international law. One of its two main sections covers the issue of encryption while the other is entitled "Wiretapping and National Security". It concludes by calling for the abolishment of the Emergency Law, enforced since 1981. "What value would constitutional and legal guarantees for the right to privacy carry when the Emergency Law has been mocking them and ignoring their existence for over twenty years," asked Bahgat.

MPs who received copies of the memo included representatives of the Tagammu', Wafd, Nasserist and Liberal Parties. The memo was also sent to representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood and other independent parliamentarians, in addition to several members of the ruling National Democratic Party.

The Legal Unit of the EIPR also intends to challenge the constitutionality of Article 65 if the parliament approves the current text. Article 45 of Egyptian Constitution states that: "The law shall protect the inviolability of the private life of citizens. Correspondence, wires, telephone calls and other means of communication shall have their own sanctity and secrecy and may not be confiscated or monitored except by a causal judicial warrant and for a definite period according to the provisions of the law." The right to privacy is also protected by article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory.