Press Release: Masaar (Community for Technology and Law): For Safe and Free Use of the Internet

Masaar (Community for Technology and Law) announces the launch of its activities in defending the rights and freedoms associated with using the Internet and technology in Egypt. Our community aims to provide the legal and technical expertise needed by society and individuals to meet challenges pertaining to digital surveillance, privacy, freedom of information, freedom of expression, censorship and digital media. To achieve this goal, Masaar relies on a team that consists of human rights lawyers and researchers with experience in fields related to digital technology.

Masaar embarks its work under complicated local and international circumstances, due to the challenges related to the spread of the novel coronavirus. The reactions of some governments to this crisis by imposing exceptional measures to strengthen surveillance mechanisms against users of digital space raises several concerns. These measures include restrictions imposed on the circulation of certain types of information on social media platforms regarding the performance of governments to combat the spread of this pandemic and legal actions taken against voices criticizing policies and practices of states in their response to this crisis. In this context, defending digital rights, freedom of expression and freedom of information becomes more critical than ever, and the role of human rights organizations in fighting against normalizing these exceptions is indispensable.

Over the past two decades, the Internet has provided an unmatched opportunity to create independent spaces for expressing opinions, such as blogs and social media platforms, beyond traditional mediums controlled by the state and private sector, including newspapers, radio stations and TV channels. The Internet has enabled users to engage in an unprecedented process in modern history to create knowledge and spread information widely. It helped individuals and communities in their confrontation with various forms of human rights violations. It provided them with the necessary tools to shed light on topics related to political, religious and sexual pluralism. However, the state percived these spaces as a threat to its official narratives, which aim at consolidating tyranny, poverty and inequality.

Since 2008, the Egyptian state has been developing its strategies on communications surveillance by purchasing software to spy on users and infiltrate their privacy. The authorities have also improved their legal structure to control cyberspace through punitive tools, including legislation and decisions restricting the freedom to use the Internet. These policies were manifested in many practices that included blocking websites, prosecuting users, spying on their digital activities and private messages, and imposing unfair bureaucratic requirements on establishing digital media platforms.

Masaar will provide the technical knowledge needed to confront practices of governments and non-state actors in the areas of surveillance, censorship, blocking websites, and digital privacy. This knowledge will be available through publishing periodic reports and studies documenting violations resulting from these policies and offering technical and juridical solutions to overcome them. Masaar will also seek to use possible litigation mechanisms to defend digital rights. It will provide legal aid to victims of related violations, as well as using strategic litigation mechanisms before administrative and constitutional courts to influence legislative policies that detract from digital rights.

Masaar does not only target government policies related to digital rights but will also work on developing community standards to engage with urgent questions in the areas of gender-based discrimination, hate speech and incitement to violence.

As for the framework governing Masaar`s vision and practice, the international human rights standards stipulated in international treaties, or those upon which the global human rights movement has settled, will form the main background of Masaar’s activities. These standards include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance.

Masaar`s team members are honoured to consider themselves part of the Egyptian human rights movement. They will work in cooperation with local, regional and international organizations concerned with freedom of expression and the right to privacy for a secure and safe internet for users.