“A law legalising the violation of Egyptians’ data privacy on the pretext of national security.” This is how political analysts described the law issued by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last week, on “protecting personal data,” ignoring the intense objections and controversy raised by human rights organisations over the past three years since the law was first introduced.
The law facilitates “national security” agencies obtaining any personal data of citizens that they wish to obtain, removing confidentiality restrictions on them at any stage, processing them, and dealing with them directly without legal restrictions or judicial oversight, according to what these authorities estimate or under the title of “other considerations.”
The personal data that the law has defined as “sensitive” includes, and will be available for, national security agencies to obtain mental, physical, or genetic health data. It also includes, according to the text of the law, biometrics data, financial data, religious beliefs, political opinions, and the security case declaration.
This project was described by al-Sisi in July 2019 as “the mind of the Egyptian state,” and it will be constructed at a depth of 14 metres below the surface of the earth, in a location secured by the highest means and degrees of insurance. In October 2019, al-Sisi revealed that a “mind for the Egyptian state” is planned in the new administrative capital, which includes all the information and data of the Egyptian state.
According to al-Sisi, the project is estimated to cost about EGP 25 billion ($1.6 million dollars), and includes about 50,000 computers, and thousands of employees trained in digitisation, to create the complete databases of Egyptian society. At that time, Al-Sisi considered the project as “national security and a major project that has been carefully prepared during the past years.”
Opponents of the law fear that its provisions give the security services full control over citizens’ data, bank accounts, and everything related to them on the internet, which means full control over any opponents of the regime.
The researcher Ahmed Mawlana said that granting the national security agencies the freedom to obtain the personal data that it wants about citizens is “codifying the behaviour that has been practiced since the Nasserite period (1954-1970).” He added: “The new law is part of al-Sisi ‘s efforts to codify the practices of the security services, which are seen as work outside the law.”
The same thing was approved by the former parliamentarian, Tharwat Nafie, when he said that “the Egyptians’ data is exposed to be violated by any security authority.” He added: “If the goal is to protect personal data, then it is commendable, but if the goal is to obtain and violate it then it is already happening.” He continued: “The problem with such laws is not in drafting as much as they are in implementation, and defining some of the things that limit the transgression in the concept of national security, and identifying what is harmful to national security and what is not harmful, and this dilemma we face in several laws and not in the law on the protection of personal data.”
This matter was brought to the attention of Sharif Fakhry, a member of the Defence and National Security Committee. He said during the discussion of the draft law that the provisions of the law were contradictory to each other, without clarifying the mechanisms for implementing those controls.
With regard to the seriousness of the law, in light of the broad definitions of national security considerations, former parliamentarian Muhammad Jaber indicated that the law threatens to use citizens statements and sensitive information incorrectly, trading in it and achieving international interests through it, as well as manipulating and abusing or blackmailing its owners. He added: “The law also affects the future of foreign investments and drives them to flee from Egypt, as it eliminates any form of freedom of opinion or expression in Egypt.” He concluded that the law “threatens social and civil institutions and puts them under the threat of the security and authorities, not the powers of law.”