Forget all about net neutrality, we’ve now seen the first real example of ‘net neutering’ with Egypt flicking the ‘kill switch’ on the internet. How terrible, how frightening, how undemocratic, how primitive in this day and age – I hear you ask? Hang on a minute, isn’t that what President Obama was on about last year. Wasn’t it proposed ha had the same rights in times of national emergency?
Even though the details are still sketchy around the Egyptian action, reports confirm that the dreaded ‘kill switch’ was applied and that telecoms operators were also asked to shut down parts of the network, supposedly to quell the mobs by cutting off their means of communicating to raise demonstrations. How dumb is that?
Well, now we can see in real-life the effect of such a move. Whilst the issues in Egypt are yet to be resolved it would seem that switching off the internet had the opposite effect that President Mubarak had expected or hoped for. It may be questionable just how much of the Egyptian population has access to the internet, estimates claim 20 million, but the net effect of losing electronic communications (mobile networks were also ordered to limit traffic) was to drive the population into the streets to communicate with each other and, subsequently, their displeasure to the authorities. Instead of slowing down the rising wave of dissent, it appears at first glance that the communications clampdown had the exact opposite effect.
Let’s imagine for one moment if your own government leaders decided to use the ‘kill switch’ for whatever reason. I’m only supposing here, but I would expect that action alone would be enough to start some sort of revolution. Our dependence on the internet and mobile communications, in both emerging and developed economies, has become so entrenched it is seen as a civil right.
Can you imagine not being to email, SMS, IM, Facebook or Twitter for one hour – let alone days? I hear howls of derision from some of you thinking what a relief it would be, but I can assure you the vast majority would be up in arms, just like in Egypt, especially if it was triggered for political means. The action also makes a mockery of any thoughts that USA’s net neutrality rules would be universally adopted. Forget limitations, traffic shaping and filtering – Egypt just switched it off altogether (with the exception of the stock exchange)!
In an incredible example of fatefully bad timing, the proposed Lieberman-Collins bill handing President Obama power over privately owned computer systems during a ‘national cyberemergency,’ and prohibiting any review by the court system, looks likemaking a return this year. Wow, that should be a real vote winner unless, like Sen. Joseph Lieberman, you won’t be seeking re-election. Supporters of the bill must be happy to have such a powerful ‘sacrificial lamb’ to take the case forward.