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Internet Switched Off: How the Egyptian Gov’t Did It

Amid massive protests in Egypt this week, the Egyptian government took steps to sever communications with the outside world by switching off nearly all connections to the internet. This has the effect of stopping outgoing (and in-going) communications via applications such as Twitter as well as basic email, Facebook, and wireless telephones. Bobbie Johnson has posted an article on GigaOM that describes some of how such a severance would or could be done. According to the information in that article, Egyptian officials at least had the forethought to not stop through-traffic to other countries downstream of their position in the internet infrastructure.

As certain groups in the United States are trying to get approval for an “internet kill-switch” in the U.S., Egypt serves as a prime example of why the internet should remain a free and open channel of communication. Homeland security is important for every nation, but stifling the citizens within the nation is not and should not be an option available to governments.end of article icon

Posted on Friday, January 28, 2011 in TechnologyPolitics • (7) Comments

Comments

1. Posted by Richard on January 29, 2011

“wireless telephones”?

I didn’t know that the same internet kill switch would kill cell phones as well. Are you thinking VOIP phones? That would make sense but not cell phones, that was a different kill switch, right?

2. Posted by Dale Allyn on January 29, 2011

Richard, some of the press accounts state that there has been very limited access to the internet via mobile phones which operate on networks outside of Egypt. I understand this to mean access by roaming via outside agreements between carriers, i.e. travelers, etc. I’m not sure how exactly it is all interconnected in the infrastructure, but there were several references in the press to limitations on wireless phone systems as well.

3. Posted by Dale Allyn on January 29, 2011

From the New York Times Media Decoder column: “Journalists on the scene have been impeded by blockages of the Internet and of wireless phones in Egypt.”

I didn’t intend to conflate the source of the restrictions as one action. My wording may be poorly constructed. My assumption is/was that there is some overlap plus other specific actions by the government. The takeaway to me was that internet access and mobile phone usage were restricted.

It occurs to me that if the ISP is also a large mobile phone carrier (as Verizon is here in the U.S., Orange and Hutch in parts of Asia and Europe, etc.) a sweeping action by the government could mess up most of one’s means to communicate with “the outside world”.

4. Posted by Richard on January 29, 2011

Right Dale, I know the end, I’m just curious about the means. If ATT flipped the switch on data access via their servers I’m not sure that same switch would turn off cell phone access. It might, but I don’t think the of them as the same, even on a smart phone which many people on the ground in Egypt no doubt have.

I’m guessing both of these things happened almost simultaneously because the government ordered it and so, to someone on the ground they’re the same, of course. It ain’t just one switch and my guess is that even in Egypt where it’s no doubt more centralized than here, it’s something that might take some time and coordination.

5. Posted by Dale Allyn on January 29, 2011

I agree, Richard. Here in the U.S. I expect that there is more separation of such service infrastructure as well as more providers, and of course we have more independent ISPs, etc. From my experience in Thailand I can say it would be a trivial task there to shut off just about anything the government wanted to.

I don’t really fear such actions here in the States anytime soon. However, I do think that great care should be taken as the U.S. Government explores the possibility of enacting new “kill switch” powers.

6. Posted by Richard on January 30, 2011

I think it’s only Lieberman who’s into a kill switch and thankfully he’s pulled his own kill switch and won’t be running again. Now, if we could find the kill switch on the rest of them… Obviously someone’s already slide the “dimmer” switch to as low as it can go!

7. Posted by Dale Allyn on January 30, 2011

Right!, Richard.

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