Friday, January 28, 2011

Civil unrest and internet kill switches

Mass protests against a corrupt government in Tunisia resulted in the ruling family being run out of the country. As with the Iranian protests following that country's latest presidential elections, protestors in Tunisia used internet enabled mobile phones to organize and tell the rest of the world what they were doing. 

The Tunisian government in an attempt to disrupt the protests tried to censor their citizen's access to the internet. First a few web sites became inaccessible. Then the Tunisian Internet Agency began harvesting account passwords for social media websites, like Facebook, and with stolen accounts deleted protest groups and gathered information on protestors.

In the end the Tunisian efforts to cut their citizens off from the internet didn't work well enough and the country is undergoing a change in government right now. No sooner had the dust settled in Tunisia then another mass uprising of citizens fueled by rage over government abuses and corruption flared up in Egypt.

The Egyptian government wasted no time in tightening their control of the internet. Since protestors were using their mobile phones to organize, the Egyptian government cut off mobile phone services from the internet. Which resulted in Egyptian citizens opening up their home Wi-Fi security, allowing protestors within range to use their internet access to get around the government blockade.

As with Iran and Tunisia, much of the news the rest of the world got about the protests in Egypt was coming from the citizens there who were using the internet to upload videos and first hand accounts. Even the foreign press relies at least partially on the internet to file their reports.

As of yesterday, the Egyptian government has taken the radical step of cutting off their country from the internet. You can follow the link below to a web page that will try to contact internet servers from all over the world, including the now inaccessible Egypt.

http://www.just-ping.com/index.php?vh=yahoo.com&c=&s=ping!&vtt=1296171901&vhost=_&c= 




This has been a chilling development, but it was inevitable that a government under pressure from the people it oppresses would one day suddenly cut itself off from the internet. No doubt the Egyptian government saw this as a necessary step to deny protestors a means of communication before the government suffered the same fate as Tunisia. We in America can at least rest assured that our own government could never do that to us.

Well… actually there is a bill in the Senate right now that would grant the President the right to shut down the internet in part or as a whole in America. It is called the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act. These powers would be at the sole the discretion of the Executive Branch without any judicial oversight such as first obtaining a court order. I'm at a loss to adequately explain the purpose of such powers short of censoring the American people in a time of civil unrest or mass protest against our own government.  

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