Friday, August 09, 2019

Americans arrested abroad for social media or other online content; how big a problem?

The Washington Post, in a story by Sudarsan Raghavan, reports that a dual American citizen Egyptian national Reem Mohamed Desouky, who works as a teacher in Lancaster PA, was arrested and detained in Cairo when she arrived with her 13 year old son, for “administering social media accounts critical of the regime”.

Egypt, like many authoritarian countries, has strict laws against criticizing the regime, believing that “free speech” leads to uncontrollable civil unrest. It has arrested other travelers, as from Lebanon.  What is less clear is if it would arrest Americans or foreigners who are not Egyptian. 

The question needs to be asked before traveling to any authoritarian country.

There would also be a question as to whether this policy applies only to major social media platforms, but also to hosted websites.
For example, I might be arrested if I traveled to one of these countries (or tried to visit China) as it would be simple for authorities to check my “online reputation” in search engines.
Since I have announced a massive scale-back of my online presence to happen at the end of 2021 (in about 28 months) travel to these countries might be conceivable afterwards.  But the Internet archive could also be checked.
It’s worth looking at the video above to know whether you can be prosecuted for violations of US laws when traveling overseas (if you are from the US). Sometimes you can.

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