Parliamentarians Defend Right to Privacy of Communications Article 65 of Communications Bill Amended

Press Release

31 December 2002

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) today expressed its satisfaction with the outcome of the Parliament's debate over Article 65 of the Communications Bill, which would have expanded the government's power to engage in surveillance of private conversations and communications.

The EIPR had previously voiced its concern over the aforementioned article on several occasions. The proposed text of the article allowed the Military Forces, Ministry of the Interior and the National Security Authority to access any communications network "in fulfillment of national security needs." The ambiguous wording of that phrase could have opened the door for security agencies to use national security concerns as an excuse to engage in preemptive surveillance of individuals' communications.

According to the amendment, which was approved by the People's Assembly on 30 December 2002 and for which the EIPR had been campaigning, the article now starts by referring to citizens' legal right to protection of private life; the only reference to privacy in the entire law. It also restricts the right of security agencies to interfere with private communications except "within the limits specified by law". Parliament's Speaker Fathi Sorour also demanded that a paragraph be added to the sessions' records specifying the legal guarantees for secrecy of communications in the Code of Criminal Procedures. Under those guarantees security agencies can only interfere with private communications after obtaining a causal judicial authorization for no longer than 30 days and only in the course of investigating a felony or a misdemeanor punishable by more than three months of imprisonment.

"The approved amendment is very satisfactory to us," said Hossam Bahgat, Program director of the EIPR. "It's very rare that we see the People's Assembly enforce a radical change in the name of human rights to a bill proposed by the government."

On 15 December the EIPR's Right to Privacy Program had submitted to a group of Members of Parliament (MPs) a memorandum on Article 65, which included an analysis of the article and proposed amendments to its text.

The EIPR also reiterated its call for a free use of cryptography technologies. The group called on the Minister of Communications and Information Technology to include a text in the law's executive regulations allowing for the free domestic use of cryptography software.