On Friday the government shut down internet and telephone services. The services were blocked from receiving signals in a bid to suppress images and posts from revealing the full extent of the anti-government protests. You can see from the following graphic how the internet in Egypt suddenly “died” on January 27, 2010:
Many western leaders have called for reform including President Barack Obama who called upon the Egyptian authorities to “refrain from attacking the protesters” and further added “those protesting in the streets have a responsibility to express themselves peacefully”. He also stated that:
“Now, going forward, this moment of volatility has to be turned into moment of promise. The United States has a close partnership with Egypt and we’ve cooperated on many issues, including working together to adbance a more peaceful region. But we’ve also been clear that there must be reform — political, social, and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people.”
President Obama also told the Egyptian government to “reverse the actions that they have taken to interfere with access to the Internet, to cell phone services and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century”.
Coincidently, according to news reports, a bill was in the process of being floated by Senator Susan Collins, the Republican ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which would grant the President similar internet killing powers.
According to wired.com, an aide to the Homeland Security committee described the bill as one that does not mandate the shuttering of the whole internet. Instead, it would authorize the president to demand turning off access to so-called “critical infrastructure” where necessary.
It seems clear to me that “critical infrastructure” can be interpreted to mean just about anything that the Government may want it to mean. If this legislation is passed Americans may wake up one morning to find their internet is no longer available to them and that their phone has stopped ringing.
“The U.S. telecommunication industry is much more complex and far more decentralized. To do something similar in the U.S. would require a lot more than four phone calls. There are simply too many connections inside the nation already for them to be silenced. Also, since our economy is more dependent on the Internet obstructing the free flow of information would be disastrous. Still, the push for a U.S. Internet Kill Switch is here, but no one understands the consequences.The fact is, no one in the U.S. should ever have the right or the ability to take the Internet offline. As an editor of a purely online publication (we made the switch from print a few years ago), it’s very clear to me that freedom of the press relies more than ever on the Internet. No one in the U.S.—or anywhere—should have the right to shut it down.”