Egyptian MPs have voted to amend a clause of the government’s telecommunications bill that would have given police carte blanche to tap telephones and Internet servers. MPs changed Article 65 of the bill to require "due legal process" before any tap, after speaker Ahmed Fathi Surur insisted that authority should only be granted in accordance with the "rules and regulations of the penal code."

The article only deals with procedures in cases involving crimes commanding jail terms of less than three years, in the expectation that more serious offences will be dealt with under the state of emergency imposed following president Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981. The amended text requires the authorities to either "stipulate a fixed timeframe" for a tap or "obtain a proper warrant."

The main thrust of the government’s telecommunications bill seeks to end the state’s monopoly in certain fields in the light of the explosion in demand of the past two decades. Telephone ownership has mushroomed from just 500,000 in 1981 to some 10 million now, according to a parliamentary report. After the line-by-line reading, the entire text of the bill will have to be submitted to another vote in parliament before becoming law.