Cairo (May 10, 2011) —
A new initiative to counter Egyptian’s state torture – Piggipedia – is now facing challenges despite going viral on the internet, raising many ethical questions about information sharing. Developed on Flickr by Egyptian political activist and citizen journalist Hossam El-Hamalawy, ‘Piggipedia’ showcases profiles of Egyptian security officers who have committed torture in detention prisons. ‘It is a way of deterring those officers from carrying on abuse further,’ says El-Hamalawy, who was once tortured in these prisons himself.
The Flickr page acts as a database for all officers identified by political activists, whose personal photos are revealed in ‘wanted’-style postings. The many comments underneath each photo from witnessing users on the page provide a blue print of officers abuses. Some of these photos were taken in demonstrations by activists, while others were uploaded from CDs stolen in March 2011 when activists stormed the State Security Service offices and took all material related to the torture cases.
The Egyptian military forces currently ruling the country have called upon all citizens to submit any found material to the prosecutor and judicial system of Egypt, in order ‘to protect the national security and privacy of individuals’. No one can verify this piggipedia information except the political activists; nor has any investigations taken place from the military against the officers depicted on Flickr, apart from the trial of the x-minister of interior and one senior officer. This brings more fear that the military is trying to hide any material that convicts the police.
Interestingly, Flickr brought down some of these profile only two days after the CDs pictures were uploaded. While there are no ways for verifying these pictures or who they belong to, the company justified the action as a case of ‘copyright infringement’.
In the meantime, several secret police service officers fear their careers could be tarnished after pictures about torture have increased mistrust in the larger role of Police in Egypt. Over 4000 Egyptians police officers with no torture record have had to resign after incidents of public harassment. Thousands others have marched calling for protecting those officers who have integrity and for ensuring their reputations and rights as citizens are not compromised.
The question that comes to mind: is sharing profile pictures of Police Officers ethical? And in a state that was relying on oppression and torture of political activists, where do we draw the line between uncovering human rights violations and protecting the rights to citizens privacy and to ‘fair trial’ ? When many state-security officers with alleged black history of torture remain in office, is it fair to prevent Egyptians activists to reveal abuses online? And what role could and should content mediators such as Flick play in politically volatile countries like Egypt? Should YouTube and Flick play the censorship role in addition to the already-existing censoring state arm ?