The Internet Kill Switch

It might be appropriate to consider Facebook and Twitter as the world’s latest tools for bringing about social and political change as they enable young change leaders to coordinate collective action, seek and connect with others who share the same belief, spread information to all these willing to take action, and share their experience with the rest of the world in real time.

It did not take the Egyptian government long to realize that Facebook and Twitter are fundamental resources for the opposition and decided that in order to suppress the opposition their mobilization tool had to be crippled – so the government decided to block internet access to Facebook, Twitter, and other viral websites, which unsurprisingly proved to be inadequate because proxies can easily be used to bypass such restriction, so Egypt decided to take a seriously extreme measure to ensure that the opposition does not take advantage of the resources of the internet: pull the internet plug for the entire country so that individuals, businesses, government offices, hospital, banks, and everyone else relying on public internet service to providers to connect to the internet does not have any access to it at all.

As crazy as it sounds, but that was the only way for Egypt to have absolute control over how its people use the internet. Due to the way the internet is structured, you cannot attempt to automatically or manually censor the internet. If you block access to a certain service the users will always find a way to bypass this restriction by using one proxy technology or another. The only efficient way to truly censor the internet would require the authority to disconnect the country from the whole world wide web exactly like Egypt did and consequently damage its communication infrastructure and bring about chaos to society.

To the current regime in Egypt disconnecting the whole country is in their opinion probably justified as they would do anything now to (b) stop protesters from being able to communicate with each other and (b) stop the rest of the world from learning about what the government does to its people.

We are witnessing what is probably the most modern form of being held captive – living in an information black hole – a country with no mobile phones, SMS messages, or internet access. Thinking about this from the comfort of our homes in such a peaceful country, we might declare that we also cannot survive without our internet connections (which we primarily use for entertainment purposes) but to the people of Egypt the internet is, in fact, vital at this point to their very survival. It might not be too far-fetched to claim that having the right for internet access may qualify as a human right to these people when you realize that many of the universally acknowledged human rights, such as the freedom of expression, the freedom to peacefully assemble, and the right to have access to knowledge and information, can barely have any significant meaning outside the internet at this day and age.

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