The Cabinet will begin discussing the final draft of the new Right to Information Law next week when Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb returns from a trip to Italy, privately owned Al-Watan newspaper reported on Tuesday.
A government source told Al-Watan that the new law will criminalize spreading rumors on social media that could potentially harm the state, with punishments ranging from monetary fines to imprisonment.
The ministers of transitional justice and communication will reportedly detail the definition of “cybercrime” in the draft law, which includes disclosing classified national security information and spreading harmful rumors.
Minister of Transitional Justice Ibrahim al-Heneidy told Al-Watan that the Right to Information Law is a priority for the Cabinet in the coming period.
Heneidy added that the law will mandate the formation of a special committee to determine the period of time for which classified information should remain so, and when and how it can be disclosed. The committee will also be responsible for specifying what kind of information can be exempt from such classification.
Regarding the implementation and monitoring of the law, Heneidy said that a new entity might be formed to oversee this, or the government will rely on already existing bodies like the National Library and Archives.
He asserted that the government aims to put the law out for public consultation and dialogue to avoid the controversy that followed the announcement of the new Terrorism Law, especially regarding Article 33 relating to journalists.
Digital security researcher Ramy Raoof told Mada Masr that he doubts the government will hold any real public dialogue concerning the law. “From their perspective, if they show the draft law to the top 10 state lawyers, journalists and professors and ignore independent groups, that’s dialogue.”
“The concept of the law itself is immature, it doesn’t reflect where we are going with technology,” Raoof said, adding, “They will just broadly use it to criminalize everyone, including journalists and researchers.”
The motivation behind issuing this law is not regulation Raoof claimed, “but to protect the state from any use of technology that doesn’t work to its advantage.”
In May, several media outlets circulated news of a new cyber crime bill that had been approved by the Cabinet and was awaiting approval by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The bill was purportedly written to combat the “dissemination of rumors and the promotion of extremist thought on social networks,” while protecting the “security of both citizens and the state…[and] preserving privacy.”
Highlighted crimes in the bill included trespassing on a private ICT system or website, or a government system or website; intercepting or accessing private communications data; hacking content from an individual, private or state entity; online fraud; producing websites in order to incite crimes and carrying out Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks.
Punishment for some of the crimes mentioned in the bill included life imprisonment or time in a maximum-security prison.
In mid-December, Mehleb formed the High Council for Cyber Security, headed by the Communications Ministry, including key state bodies like the Ministries of Interior and Defense, to “secure the infrastructure and networks of government agencies against cyber attacks.”