The Egyptian Government shut down internet and cell phone services to silence political dissent. President Hosni Mubarack has previously acted quickly and decisively to sever internet communication in Egypt in response to pro-democratic uprisings involving protesters using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate and mobilise. This occurred back in 2009 under the repressive military backed regime.
Mobile and ISP providers were ordered by Muraback to disable services. Egypt has managed to selectively obliterate Internet communications to conceal the political upheaval occurring within its borders. The order to shut down the internet appears to have been made to ISPs just after midnight local time last Thursday.
This left Egyptian citizens reliant on alternative means to communicate both internally and to connect with the outside world.
Freedom of speech and access to an information is an international right as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Americans who value free speech need to be aware of the fact that a wholesale internet blackout could occur in America. As previously reported, legislation was introduced in the US, in the form a Bill titled Protecting Cyberspace as a National Security Asset 2010, (PCNAA) otherwise known as the ‘internet kill switch‘ bill, to enable the US to take similar action should the US experience a need to flip the switch in the event of a cyberattack on the US. The text of the various versions of the Bill are available here.
All that needs to happen for a US President to impose an internet blackout similar to that which has occurred in Egypt is to declare a national emergency.
Senator Lieberman demonstrated he wasn’t averse to using the Senate Homeland Security Committee to exert pressure upon internet giants such as Amazon, Mastercard and VISA to deny various service to WikiLeaks
It isn’t the first time free speech has been threatened by Governments who have resorted to cutting their people off internet from internet access to isolate a population in crisis.
We have seen similar efforts by Governments to crush dissent during the Presidential campaign in Iran in 2009, in Nepal in 2005 and during the 2007 Myanmar elections.
However by comparison the measures the the Egyptian Government has taken are extreme. 3,500 Internet routes suddenly vanished. The brute force measures the Government took to quell dissent included withdrawal of most Egyptian ISP Border Gateway Patrol (BGP) routes. Only one ISP out of 10, Noor Data Networks, appears to be unaffected by the interruption. The Noor Network connects to the outside world via an under water cable operated via Telecom Italia.
At first approximately 88 percent of Egyptian networks were disabled, leaving only 327 networks which are reachable, the number rapidly diminishing to 239 networks. The situation could worsen.
In the Iranian scenario, proxy technology and servers were established concealing users’ locations, enabling Iranians to bypass specific internet blocks to fight the Government imposed internet censorship.
Iranians were able to bypass and circumvent specific site blockages by Governments, however this kind of technology is of no avail where the infrastructure has been blacked out. Twitterers switched their locations to Tehran after the word got out that the Government was cracking down on Iranian Twitter accounts. However this approach has no practical application in this situation where citizens face a complete system infrastructure blackout.
Countries like Tunisia and Egypt learnt from the Iranian situation that there was a more effective way of depriving citizens of access to the internet in the event of a political protest. Egypt has taken an unprecedented step by simply severing access to the internet. That solution was to simply cut access to the internet as quickly as possible and impose a state sponsored internet blackout.
Undeterred, Egyptians have been finding creative ways to fight back, such as using primitive dial up connections to try to access remaining networks via unused ports to salvage their connection to the outside world. They are also using their cell phones as dial up modems.
Activists have also been smuggling satellite phones into Egypt, the result being characterised as essentially an autonomous internet, one which isn’t routed through the Egyptian network.
Ham and CB radios, telephones and fax machines have been used to enable communication both internally and with the international community.
Reports coming from Reporters Without Borders and similar organisations indicate that journalists covering the Egyptian protests have been deliberately targeted by Police with many being subject to violence and arrests.
Meanwhile confidential cables are being released outlining the nature and extent of police brutality and torture in Egypt being used against human rights activists.