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Interior Ministry denies contracting firm to surveil Internet use

The Interior Ministry has denied reports that it contracted a cybersecurity firm to monitor data on social media and other online communication platforms, a statement on its Facebook page said.

On Wednesday, the US-based news media site BuzzFeed published an exclusive report contending that over the summer, the ministry contracted See Egypt — the sister company of the US-based Internet security company Blue Coat — to begin monitoring online communications, citing government officials.

“This piece of news is completely false,” the ministry responded on Thursday.

The article was widely circulated on social media and picked up by several other international and local news outlets.

The ministry called on the media to verify such news with the relevant officials before reporting on it, “especially given the challenges the country is facing which aim at spreading mistrust, stirring public opinion and dismissing the Interior Ministry’s efforts and its sons’ sacrifices.”

The BuzzFeed article quoted Ali Miniesy, CEO of See Egypt, as confirming that his company had in fact submitted a tender to provide surveillance services for Egypt. He remained tightlipped on whether the tender had been accepted, however.

The CEO said that his company merely gives the government the security program and trains its personnel on how to use the system.

Miniesy explained that See Egypt “had been contracted to provide Egypt’s State Security with the system, and to teach officials how to comb through data gathered from email accounts and social media sites,” according to BuzzFeed.

The report also quoted an unnamed Interior Ministry official as explaining that the ministry will be monitoring conversations it finds “worrying,” such as conversations between Islamists or those involving “debauchery” or “homosexual acts.”

In June, journalist Magdy al-Gallad published an article in the privately owned Al-Watan newspaper that purportedly leaked the ministry’s plans to impose an “electronic grip” on Internet activity.

Al-Watan reported that the ministry would enforce a new mechanism giving it access to data on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim later issued a statement saying that the new surveillance system is far from a mechanism that limits freedoms, but rather was created within a framework of developing the ministry’s technical security system.

He explained that the system is meant to trace security threats that are spread on social media, especially potential acts of terrorism.