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Arab authorities use digital surveillance to control press freedom: journalists’ perceptions

Miral Sabry AlAshry (Department of Political Mass Media, Future University in Egypt, Cairo, Egypt)

Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance

ISSN: 2398-5038

Article publication date: 7 March 2023

Issue publication date: 25 April 2023




The purpose of this study is to investigate the extent of digital surveillance by Arab authorities, which face risks and threats of surveillance, and how journalists seek to press freedom by using tools and techniques to communicate securely.


The study used focus group discussions with 14 journalists from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Yemen, Oman, Jordan and Egypt. While in Egypt, questionnaires were distributed to 199 journalists from both independent and semi-governmental outlets to investigate how Egyptian journalists interpret the new data protection law and its implications for press freedom.


The study indicated that journalists from these countries revealed severe censorship by their respective governments, an element inconsistent with the Arab Constitution. The recommendation of the study encourages media organisations to play a more active role in setting policies that make it easier for journalists to adopt and use digital security tools, while Egyptian journalists see the law as a barrier to media independence because it allows the government to exercise greater information control through digital policy and imposes regulatory rules on journalists.

Practical implications

The study identifies practical and theoretical issues in Arab legislation and may reveal practices of interest to scientists researching the balance between data protection, the right of access to information and media research as an example of contemporary government indirect or “soft” censorship methods.


To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this paper is one of the first research contributions to analyse the relationships between Arab authoritarians who used surveillance to restrict freedom of the press after the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011 to keep themselves in power as long as they could. In addition, Egypt's use of surveillance under new laws allowed the regimes to install software on the journalists’ phones that enabled them to read the files and emails and track their locations; accordingly, journalists can be targeted by the cyberattack and can be arrested.



AlAshry, M.S. (2023), "Arab authorities use digital surveillance to control press freedom: journalists’ perceptions", Digital Policy, Regulation and Governance, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 250-266.



Emerald Publishing Limited

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