Saturday, January 29, 2011

Civil unrest continues in Egypt - Will there be an "internet kill switch" in the USA's future?

By Kathleen

I had hoped by now that the civil unrest that is taking place in Egypt might have calmed down. It hasn't. Since Tuesday it has been estimated that approximately 100 people have been killed and the unrest continues to escalate.

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:

Egypt internet traffic

(h/t to our reader "nomadicjoe, who runs the blog "A Nomadic View" and published a post about this subject)

Despite the protests Hosni Mubarak refuses to step aside leading to tens of thousands of protesters congregating in the streets calling for his resignation and burning images of him. Earlier they ignored night curfew limits and attacked police vehicles, setting them on fire. The military were brought in to control the crowds and patrol the streets and the numbers killed rose dramatically. Despite the rising death toll the demonstrators are determined to stay until Mubarak steps aside.

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, 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 discussion about an "internet kill switch" in the USA has been stirred up by the events in Egypt. Dan Costa, Executive Editor of "PC Mag", commented on January 28:

"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."

CBS reported about the internet shut down in Egypt in the protests:

It is clear that Egypt is in turmoil and that the problems there may only be settled by the people via free and democratic elections. How likely is this to take place? Mubarak shows no signs of leaving Egypt despite being advised to do so by the powerful Arab Cleric Yusuf al-Quaradawi cleric of the Muslim Brotherhood. It seems that until Mubarak leaves there will be no peace. And whilst Mubarak stays the violence will continue and more people will be killed or seriously injured.

"The Daily Dish" provides excellent "live" reporting about the situation in Egypt.


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