Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lemming Tracks: Egypt Government Shuts Down Internet: It Can't Happen Here?

"Egypt Internet Shutdown Underscores Vulnerability"
Antone Gonsalves, InformationWeek (January 29, 2011)

"The government ordered the shutdown of the country's four ISPs, effectively blocking all Internet communications during anti-government protests.

"The ease with which Egypt was able to shutdown the Internet to cut off communications during violent, anti-government protests demonstrates the Internet's vulnerability in countries where there are few service providers.

"Egypt, where protests stem from frustration over government corruption, a depressed economy, and a lack of political freedom, started its Internet blockade this week by cutting off access to Twitter and Facebook. The sites are often used by protesters in troubled nations to organize demonstrations and stay a step ahead of police. On Friday, the sites were still inaccessible.

""We saw a drop in Egyptian traffic on Thursday and are now seeing only minimal traffic from Egypt," Facebook said in a statement emailed to InformationWeek Friday...."

The Lemming wrote about what happened in Tunisia earlier this month. (January 15, 2011)

Essentially, folks in Tunisia had gotten fed up with their apparently-permanent president. Thanks in part to the sort of informal communication that's possible on the Internet, in the Lemming's opinion, what started as one Tunisian setting himself on fire expanded into a nation-wide protest. And, not long after that, the president-for-life hightailing it for Saudi Arabia.

In a way, the folks who run Egypt are justified in having their enforcers kill protesters, and shutting down Internet access for their unruly subjects. The rulers probably like their jobs, and may think that they alone know what's best for the rabble.

The 'rabble' obviously has an alternative opinion on the subject.

Freedom of Expression - Precious

The Lemming likes living in America. Aside from a remarkable degree of economic opportunity, folks living in this country are allowed to speak their mind to a remarkable extent.

Even if they have something other than praise for the government.

It's the Lemming's opinion that folks being able to communicate with each other - even if members of Congress don't like what's said - is a good idea. But then, the Lemming thinks that good sense and intelligence isn't limited to those who won the last election.

The Lemming even thinks that newspaper editors, college professors, and media executives don't necessarily represent the pinnacle of human potential.

Information Gatekeepers and Changing Times

Folks like editors, professors, and media decision-makers are some of America's traditional information gatekeepers: the folks who, back in the 'good old days' decided what 'the masses' should see, hear, and read. For our own good, of course.

The Lemming's discussed information gatekeepers in another blog:It's the Lemming's opinion that folks don't tend to be entirely comfortable with change. Particularly if change means that they will have less power and status. Traditional information gatekeepers, again in the Lemming's opinion, have been upset about the new social structures of the Information Age.

With some reason.

Back in 'the good old days,' traditional information gatekeepers could keep facts they didn't like from 'the masses.' And congratulate themselves on being the privileged few who protected the common lot from complexities that they alone understood.

Perhaps the Lemming is being unfair.

This isn't a political blog, by the way, and the Lemming isn't 'political.' Not in the sense of always cheering for one side and booing the other. On the other hand, the Lemming is "apathetic" only in the sense of not caring - intensely, blindly, irrationally - about the 'right' things. Yet another topic.

Shutting Down the Internet - 'For Our Own Good'

One thing the Lemming does care about - a great deal - is the freedom of people who don't necessarily agree with government or cultural leaders to speak their minds. The Lemming thinks that sort of free exchange of ideas helps point out deficiencies in policies and beliefs. And, ideally at least, provides a way to correct them.

The Lemming also thinks that it's a good idea to correct problems - before they get to 'Tunisian' levels.

It's arguable that the president of Tunisia kept winning elections because he and his associates had a nice, well-managed country - where the common people were told what they needed to know, and 'protected' from ideas that might disturb them.

Just look at what happened when Information Age technology and the social connections that go with it stirred the waters. It's the Lemming's opinion that the incredible stink that bubbled to the surface when Twitter and other social media let Tunisians start poking around their own country

No wonder the Egyptian government essentially shut down Internet access for its subjects. The Lemming suspects that the folks who have gotten used to running Egypt like their jobs - and intend to keep things pretty much the way they have been.

Maintaining the status quo is easier, in the Lemming's opinion, if the masses are kept from getting information from unapproved sources - and from comparing notes.

That's Egypt. The Lemming would like to think that folks in America don't have to be concerned about having Internet access, and the free exchange of ideas that goes with it, taken away.

The Lemming would like to think that people never get sick or have accidents, too: but that's not the way it is.

"Internet 'Kill Switch' Legislation Back in Play"
David Kravets, Threat Level, Wired (January 28, 2011)

"Legislation granting the president internet-killing powers is to be re-introduced soon to a Senate committee, the proposal's chief sponsor told on Friday.

"The resurgence of the so-called 'kill switch' legislation came the same day Egyptians faced an internet blackout designed to counter massive demonstrations in that country.

"The bill, which has bipartisan support, is being floated by Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The proposed legislation, which Collins said would not give the president the same power Egypt's Hosni Mubarak is exercising to quell dissent, sailed through the Homeland Security Committee in December but expired with the new Congress weeks later.

"The bill is designed to protect against 'significant' cyber threats before they cause damage, Collins said...."

Maybe the Collins bill is a good idea.

Maybe giving the president power to keep the masses from communicating with each other online is important - 'in the interests of national security.'

Maybe there really are enough safeguards in the bill, to keep a president from deciding that disagreeing with White House policy was not in the interest of national security: and shutting down dissent.


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Brigid said...

A bit rambly, even for you, but good post.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


"A bit?" ;)

And, thanks!

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