Egypt heightens surveillance of online communication
See Egypt, a Cairo based “system integrator,” won a bid to to monitor communication between Egypt’s social media users
The Egyptian government has hired an online security firm for extensive monitoring of internet communication on various social platforms such as Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, the state-owned Al Ahram newspaper reported on its website Thursday, citing a BuzzFeed News report.
See Egypt, a reseller of U.S.-based Blue Coat's products, has already started monitoring Egypt's online communications after winning the contract this summer, beating out two other security firms: British Gamma System, and the Israeli-founded Narus System, according to BuzzFeed.
Egyptian authorities are set to the Deep Packet Inspection surveillance system, which can locate and track users in addition to extensive monitoring of online traffic, the entertainment and news website said.
Egyptian authorities contacted See Egypt to provide the country’s state security with the system and to train government operators to survey data collected from email accounts and communication on social media sites, the CEO of the company told BuzzFeed.
“Our job as a company is to give them the system. I train the government how to run it and we give them the program,” Ali Miniesy said.
While Miniesy confirmed that his company has made an offer to provide their services to Egyptian authorities, he did not say whether the offer has been accepted.
“See Egypt has already worked with the government and has strong ties to the State Security Services,” an Egyptian official who BuzzFeed said chose to remain anonymous said.
Blue Coat said in a statement that it has “not responded, and does not intend to respond, to any tender for a social network monitoring operation in Egypt.”
“See Egypt is a Blue Coat reseller, but is not otherwise affiliated with Blue Coat. See Egypt has assured us that they have not bid or resold Blue Coat products to the Egyptian government for any social network monitoring operation,” the statement added.
“Blue Coat supports internationally recognized rights to privacy and freedom of expression. We do not condone any government’s use of our products to abuse the Internet privacy or freedom of expression of its citizens. We conduct due diligence in our sales process to minimize the risk of our technology falling into the wrong hands or being misused in violation of our corporate policies, including our Public Internet Access Policy,” according to the statement.
The program and training being offered by the systems engineering company will be able to “penetrate WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, or other programs if needed,” Miniesy said, describing the system to be similar to that used by Western governments, including the United States.
While Egyptian authorities have admitted to monitoring social media as part of efforts to stop terrorist activities, an Interior Ministry official told BuzzFeed that the new measures have a “much broader” aim.
“We are looking at any conversation, any interaction, we might find worrying or would want to keep a closer eye on,” the official said, who was not authorized to speak to the press.
“We are watching conversations between Islamists, or those who discuss Islamism. We are watching communities, which we consider at risk,” he explained.
With respect to the “much broader” aim of the new operation, the official said authorities are also on the look-out for “debauchery” or “homosexual acts.”
“We are safeguarding the values that are important to Egyptians and which will keep us safe,” the unnamed official is quoted by BuzzFeed.
This comes after witness accounts reported by France 24 said that Egyptian police is now using applications like Grindr, a popular social networking application geared towards gay men, to “hunt down” members of Egypt’s LGBT community.
While Interior Ministry sources said they were not aware of Grindr, they said “dozens of Facebook groups” used by Egypt’s LGBT community are being monitored.
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