Protests in Egypt have led to a complete shutdown of Internet and mobile phone access. The Egyptian government hopes that the blackout would halt the spread of protests against President Mubarak. As a result of Egypt’s actions, American senators re-introduced the “kill switch” bill.
The legislation would give President Obama the power to shut down U.S. Internet access “in the event of a cyber attack.” While the bill is still being reviewed, some organizations are still worried that the bill could lead to acts like “internet censorship.” Furthermore, the idea that a “kill switch” would be helpful during turmoil is debatable.
As far as preventing the spread of protests in Egypt, the Internet blackout was not successful in doing this. In fact, protests on Tuesday intensified, with more than 250,000 people inundating Liberation Square. There were other “demonstrations” in “at least five other” Egyptian cities. It is reported that the effort to achieve reform and force Mubarak from power was, in part, a result of “online activists.”
While blocking communication was unsuccessful in preventing people from organizing protests, the Internet shutdown was also harmful for several other reasons. The most obvious is denying people in Egypt freedom. Until the recent shutdown, Egypt, unlike other authoritarian regimes, had left the Internet “unblocked.” Another wrong the blackout caused is possible economic troubles. Many people take part in business through the Internet, and it seems likely that the cutoff will affect stocks and other business transactions. Then there is the idea that people’s basic needs for communication were denied. Without access to Internet and mobile phones, people cannot contact loved ones or see online news.
China is one country that censors what their people see on the Internet. Since the “unrest” in Egypt, China has “blocked keyword searches” of “Egypt.” Furthermore, slanted news publications have been released. These editorials portray the events in Egypt as a mess and dismiss efforts for change in places not “ready” for democracy. Indeed, these actions reveal Chinese officials are guarding themselves from uprisings and challenges to their regime.
Some say the actual act of shutting down the Internet is not as simple as the term “Kill Switch” implies. In fact, shutting down the Internet is a “massive undertaking.” This is due to the United States’ “numerous Internet providers” and many methods of Internet connection. Egypt only has three wireless carriers and was able to direct Internet traffic though only a few “international links.”
Thus, should Congress pass the “Kill Switch” bill? A definitive no is my answer. The simple idea of censorship is enough of an argument to stop this bill. Do we really want to follow in the footsteps of these oppressive regimes?
Jim Duffy Internet ‘kill switch’ bill reintroduced as Egypt remains dark networkworld.com
Sarah El Deeb and Hadeel Al-Shalchi Egypt crowds unmoved by Mubarak’s vow not to run Associated Press
Andrew McLaughlin Egypt’s big internet disconnect guardian.co.uk
Jordan Robertson The day part of the Internet died: Egypt goes dark Associated Press
Edward Wong and David Barboza Wary of Egypt Unrest, China Censors Web nytimes.com