Monday, January 31, 2011
Silencing the voice of the people...
This past week was a perfect example of how the "Internet kill switch" is rapidly becoming one of the favorite new tools of tyrannical governments all over the globe. Once upon a time, the Internet was a bastion of liberty and freedom, but now nation after nation is cracking down on it. In fact, legislation has been introduced once again in Congress that would give the president of the United States an "Internet kill switch" that he would be able to use in the event of war or emergency. Of course there would be a whole lot of wiggle room in determining what actually constitutes a true "emergency". The members of Congress that are pushing this "Internet kill switch" bill want the U.S. to become more like China in this regard. In China, the Internet is highly controlled, highly regulated and highly censored. In fact, China has shut down the Internet in entire regions when they have felt it necessary. So what Egypt did in shutting down the Internet this past week is not unprecedented - but it was quite shocking.
Organizers of the protests in Egypt had been using the #Jan25 hashtag on Twitter and had been communicating with each other via Facebook, and so the Mubarak regime thought that they could significantly derail the protest movement by shutting down the Internet.
It has been widely reported that approximately 88 percent of the Internet in Egypt was shut down at one point. Jim Cowie, the chief technology officer of an Internet monitoring firm known as Renesys, described on his blog just how complete and total this Internet shutdown in Egypt actually was....
"Every Egyptian provider, every business, bank, Internet cafe, website, school, embassy, and government office that relied on the big four Egyptian ISPs for their Internet connectivity is now cut off from the rest of the world."
So how was this all done? How could such a large section of the Internet be taken offline so rapidly? Well, a recent article on MSNBC described how it works....
According to David Clark, an MIT computer scientist whose research focuses on Internet architecture and development, a government's ability to control the Internet depends on its control of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the private sector companies that grant Internet access to customers.
"ISPs have direct control of the Internet, so what happens in any country depends on the control that the state has over those ISPs," Clark told Life's Little Mysteries in an e-mail. "Some countries regulate the ISPs much more heavily. China has in the past 'turned off' the Internet in various regions."
Whenever the subject of Internet censorship comes up, China always seems to be involved in the conversation. China has more Internet users than anyone else in the world, but they also have the tightest controls.
The Chinese government is absolutely obsessed with "maintaining order" and it has shown that it will go to extreme lengths to quell dissent.
For example, the government of China cut off the entire Xinjiang region from the Internet for nearly a year after civil unrest erupted there in 2009.
The Chinese government is so sensitive to political dissent that they even began censoring the word "Egypt" on a number of micro-blogging websites this past week.