Civil Liberties

Turning Off the Internet


James Glanz and John Markoff have an interesting story in The New York Times on how Hosni Mubarak managed to turn off the Internet in Egypt. This point deserves to be underlined:

For all the Internet's vaunted connectivity, the Egyptian government commanded powerful instruments of control: it owns the pipelines that carry information across the country and out into the world.

Internet experts say similar arrangements are more common in authoritarian countries than is generally recognized. In Syria, for example, the Syrian Telecommunications Establishment dominates the infrastructure, and the bulk of the international traffic flows through a single pipeline to Cyprus. Jordan, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries have the same sort of dominant, state-controlled carrier.

I got a morbid chuckle out of this vignette:

When [Ahmed ElShabrawy, who runs a company called EgyptNetwork,] noticed that domestic fiber-optic cables were open, he had a moment of exhilaration, remembering that he could link up servers directly and establish messaging using an older system called Internet Relay Chat. But then it dawned on him that he had always assumed he could download the necessary software via the Internet and had saved no copy.