There are growing fears that the Cop27 app could be used by Egypt to monitor critics of the regime Cop27

There are growing concerns about surveillance of delegates at the Cop27 Climate talks in Egypt, with cybersecurity experts warning the talks’ official app requires access to a user’s location, photos and even emails upon download.

The revelation, which will see more than 25,000 heads of state, diplomats, negotiators, journalists and activists from around the world gather at the climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh that begins Sunday, has raised concerns that Egypt’s authoritarian regime will be able to official platform for a United Nations event to persecute and harass attendees and critical local voices.

The official Cop27 The app, which has been downloaded more than 5,000 times, requires extensive approvals from users before it can be installed, including allowing the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to view emails, search photos and users’ locations determine, according to an expert who conducted the analysis, it for the guardian.

This data could be used by the regime of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to further crack down on dissent in a country that is already doing so holds about 65,000 political prisoners. Egypt held a number of fairs arrests of people accused of being protesters leading up to the Cop27 and trying to screen and isolate any activists near the talks where governments will try to negotiate an agreement on how to deal with the climate crisis.

“This is a comic book supervillain of an app,” said Gennie Gebhart, advocacy director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The biggest red flag is the number of permissions required, which are unnecessary for the app to operate and indicate they are attempting to monitor attendees.

“No sane person is going to want to consent to surveillance by a nation state or having their email read, but often people click on those permissions without much thought.”

She added, “I can’t think of a single good reason why they need these permissions.” How this information will be used is an open question – it opens up a lot of scary possibilities. It can certainly have a silent effect, with people censoring themselves when they realize they are being watched in this way. It can have a chilling effect.”

Amnesty International’s Hussein Baoumi told the Guardian that technical staff at the human rights organization investigated the app and raised a number of concerns before Cop27. The app could access users’ camera, microphone, Bluetooth and location data, as well as pairing two different apps.

“It can be used for surveillance,” he said.

Baoumi added, “The issues they found were primarily the permissions being asked for. If granted, the monitoring app can be used against you. It collects data and sends it to two servers, including one in Egypt. The authorities don’t say what they do with this data and they can use this app for bulk data collection from anyone who uses it.”

Human Rights Watch’s Amr Magdi said his organization also evaluated the app and found it “opens doors to abuse.”

Magdi added that conferences like Cop27 are “an excellent intelligence-gathering opportunity from a security perspective,” including for certain activists “that they want to know more about.”

Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Egyptian President.
Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Egyptian President. Photo: Christian Mang/Reuters

Human rights activists in Egypt raised concerns about the Cop27 app almost immediately after it became available.

“You can now download the official one #cop27 mobile app but you must provide your full name, email address, mobile number, nationality and passport number. Also, you need to enable location tracking. And then the first thing you see is,” tweeted Hossam Baghat, head of Egypt’s Personal Rights Initiative, links to an app screen that shows the Egyptian president’s face.

He then tweeted a screenshot of the app’s terms of service, they were: “Our application reserves the right to access customer accounts for technical, administrative and security purposes.”

The digital surveillance of Cop27 participants comes on top of a sophisticated infrastructure for monitoring Egyptian citizens’ communications with grid flags, prompted in large part by Egyptian officials’ fears of the power of digital communications and its relationship to the 2011 popular uprising Deep Packet Inspection Technology provided by an American company in 2013 that allows government agencies to monitor all web traffic moving through a network. Also the Egyptian government blocks online access on over 500 websites, including the country’s only independent news agency, Mada Masr, Use of the Technology Provided by the Canadian company Sandvine.

monitoring by major phone providers like Vodafone gives the Egyptian authorities direct access to all users’ phone calls, text messages and information. A Cop27 attendee said Vodafone handed out free SIM cards to conference attendees upon arrival at Sharm el-Sheikh airport.

“The Cop27 app is really part of the broader surveillance structure in Egypt,” Baomi said. “This app comes from a country that has uncompromising mass surveillance of its own population. It makes sense that the Egyptian government’s app could of course be used for surveillance to collect data and use it for purposes unrelated to Cop27. It’s sad but expected from Egypt.”

Human rights activists and anti-government members of Egyptian civil society have been under close surveillance by the Egyptian authorities for years, raising concerns about the risks to high-profile activists participating in Cop27. The Egyptian Personal Rights Initiative and Citizen Lab identified an “ongoing and extensive phishing campaign against Egyptian civil society” in 2017, targeting organizations working on human rights issues, political freedoms and gender, as well as individual targets such as lawyers, journalists and activists. Four years later, Citizen Lab identified a fresh one targeted hacking attempt against the phone a prominent ex-Egyptian opposition leader based abroad.

South Sinai Governor Khaled Fouda recently boasted to a domestic cable broadcaster about the level of surveillance at Cop27, including cameras on the backs of taxis that provide footage to a local “security observatory.”

“Sisi’s idea of ​​’security’ is mass espionage by everyone,” says Magdi tweeted In response.

The Cop Presidency and the Egyptian Foreign Ministry have been asked for comment.

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