With the unrest and protests in Cairo, the AP is reporting that just after midnight the government of Egypt completely flipped the switch and unplugged the entire country from the internet.
“Egypt has apparently done what many technologists thought was unthinkable for any country with a major Internet economy: It unplugged itself entirely from the internet to try and silence dissent.”
According to tech sources here in the states such a feat would be impossible because it would require coordination of hundreds of companies, and dozens of government agencies. Unlike in Egypt where only a few providers control all of the bandwidth for the country, here there are many more providers.
China has long censored what citizens are allowed to see on the web, although most have found ways around those controls; something the government in China is aware of but turns a blind-eye to. Iran also disrupted the Internet in 2009 in an effort to control the population after election results were disputed. Egypt is the first country in the history of the modern civilian internet that has completely unplugged.
Although the idea of the Egyptian government is obviously to disrupt communication and coordination between dissenting groups who may be organizing protests over the internet, this is a mistake. Although Egypt is not a “First World” country it relies on the internet for commerce and banking just as almost every country in the world does today. The disruption of the World Wide Web will not serve any purpose other than to further anger protesters, disrupt communication between government agencies and the military, hurt the economy in areas not involved in protests, destroy the country’s credibility in the world community, and prevent the government’s own message from getting out to the citizens it is trying to calm.
The sad part is that lawmakers have pushed for the ability to “flip the switch” on the web in this country as well. A power that would be reserved to the President in time of national emergency. (Whether that emergency can be defined as sinking poll numbers is anyone’s guess. . . .) Luckily I don’t believe that something like this will ever really happen. The government, including the military and federal law enforcement agencies, have networks that are serviced by civilian contractors. The networks are simply too intertwined to shutdown the internet without also disrupting government, military, and law enforcement communications as well.
The internet, especially in this country, is essential to freedom of speech. I believe that any attempt to disrupt or shut down communications or the entire web is unconstitutional. We may not always agree with what is on the web, but that is the beauty of the internet; it allows anyone and everyone to have a voice. Uncle Sam needs to keep his hands off the “switch”. The government has seized enough powers over the last few years, leave the internet alone.