COP27: Journalists, activists speak of 'online surveillance' fears at Egypt summit

COP27: Journalists, activists speak of 'online surveillance' fears at Egypt summit
Journalists at the summit believe their devices could be monitored by Egyptian authorities.
3 min read
07 November, 2022
Digital security experts have cast doubt on the safety of the COP27 app, used to navigate the summit [Getty-file photo]

Journalists and activists have reported online surveillance and censorship while covering the COP27 climate summit in Egypt. 

Reporters covering the environmental conference have complained of vital sites being blocked and having to sign up for a dubious application to enter the summit.

"It's highly likely that our communications are being monitored by intelligence, and it's likely that whatever we communicate digitally, someone will have access to it," said one journalist at the summit, speaking to The New Arab on condition of anonymity. 

Anyone seeking open access to the internet while at the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh is finding key information sources unavailable. 

Over 500 websites are blocked by the Sisi regime through a decree issued by the Supreme Council for Media Regulation, which enacts the government's censorship policies, some of the most stringent in the world. 

Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and independent Egyptian outlet Mada Masr sites are all unavailable in Egypt. 

The mobile app, launched by the Egyptian government to accompany the conference, is also causing concern among attendees. 
"We are getting more and more advice and information from security experts not to download the COP27 app. Please do not download it even if you enter false information," read an anonymous text message sent to journalists on Monday. 

Whoever attends or is interested in the conference is expected to use the app to navigate the conference programme and layout. 

But a digital security told TNA last month that the app enables the Egyptian authorities to “unethically conduct mass online surveillance".

In the terms and conditions section of the app, after the personal information page is filled, there is a condition that stipulates the user's approval that his or her data can be used "for security reasons".

"What are they doing with the data they gather and to what extent do they secure it, how it is being secured, whether these acts conform to the 'data protection law' and finally to what extent is the legal disclaimer of the application is credible?" asked the activist.

Several journalists have also reported the distribution of free vodafone SIM cards for use in Sharm el-Sheikh. Few are using them for fear of surveillance. 

Since taking power in 2014 after a military coup the year earlier, Sisi has ruled the country with an iron fist.

His regime has overseen "the worst crackdown on human rights, freedom of expression, and media in Egypt's modern history", according to local and international rights groups.