We were disheartened to hear late last week that prominent Egyptian blogger, activist, and friend of EFF Alaa Abd El Fattah was arrested again. According to reports, Abd El Fattah's home was searched, his laptops seized, and wife Manal Hassan beaten by authorities when she demanded to see a warrant. Their two-year-old child was asleep in the next room at the time. On Dec. 1, his detention was extended by 15 days.
Abd El Fattah rose to prominence as one of Egypt's first bloggers, writing at http://manalaa.net/ along with his wife. Over the years, he has been a steadfast supporter of free expression, protesting against both the Mubarak dictatorship and more recently, the military regime. The charges he faces currently stem from an alleged call he made for protest against military trials of civilians.
In addition to the arrests, there were a spate of attacks against the online accounts of activists, including Mona Seif, Abd El Fattah's sister. Seif lost access to her email account after her brother's home was raided, and the Facebook page of the No Military Trials campaign—which Seif leads—was maliciously taken over. Both accounts have since been restored.
According to a rolling press release issued by activists, "the persecution of Alaa Abd El Fattah is a recurring theme in Egypt." He was jailed in 2006 for 45 days under the Mubarak regime and again in 2011 after departing San Francisco, where he spoke at the Silicon Valley Human Rights Summit. Although none of the arrests were directly related to his blogging, Alaa's prominence as a thought leader and activist stems from his online activities.
The seizure of Abd El Fattah's devices, as well as the attacks on activists' online accounts, should signal to activists the importance of securing their content. As we recently highlighted, there are lots of things activists can do to protect their data, including encrypting their hard drives, using full-disk encryption, using password lockers like KeePassX, and using two-step authentication on social media accounts. Those who know they are at risk should formulate a contingency plan determining what should be done with their online accounts in the event of their arrest.