Egyptian Government Internet Blackout – Lessons for America PCNAA

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.

Related posts:

  1. Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act 2010 (PCNAA)
  2. Google sues US Government alleging Microsoft favouritism
  3. Websites seized by Government
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7 Responses to Egyptian Government Internet Blackout – Lessons for America PCNAA

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Egyptian Government Internet Blackout – Lessons for America PCNAA | Pace Legal Intellectual Property --

  2. Ben McGinnes says:

    Don’t forget that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not a treaty and has no legal weight, it’s more of a statement of principles than anything else. What you want to cite is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is a treaty and contains many similar articles to the Declaration. Article 19 of the ICCPR is also the free speech one.

  3. Tom Marshall says:

    Hi, Could you please send your phone no as the contact button on your web site does not work.
    I would like to talk to you in relation to a legal matter.



  4. admin says:


    Thanks for your comments. Of course there are many international instruments and their different status is understood with treaties having the potential to bind countries which are signatories to them, adopt them an implement them in domestic legislation. However I think in a world which is starting to see internet speech and access as a human right it doesn’t hurt to cite many human rights instruments irrespective of their legally binding capacity.


  5. admin says:


    I have received some strange emails at a certain point in time inexplicable alterations have been made as a result of malicious code which I am rectifying. As stated this is not a business, and although I am a Solicitor, this is a light forum for commentary on a random series of topics only. It isn’t intended to be relied upon as legal advice as stated or create an attorney-client relationship.

  6. admin says:

    Thanks Ben. I should have canvassed the distinction between Declarations and Conventions (or in this case aka Covenants), the latter of which are treaties of a binding legal nature once ratified and further implemented by nation states who are signatory to them, as treaties aren’t self-executing. As you correctly point out a Declaration may hold some weight if adopted by nation states but lacks that binding character. (eg UDHR). Australia signified their intention to be bound by the ICCPR in 1980 and are are obliged to take legislative steps to implement the legal effect of the rights enshrined in the Convention. It is appended as a schedule to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 and the Australian Human Rights Commission monitors compliance with the rights embodied in the ICCPR to ensure compliance with domestic legislation. (except for a few reservations) For the sake of completeness I should have mentioned the First and Second Optional Protocols to the ICCPR which Australia has entered into. The Australian Human Rights Commission, which although it does not have any enforcement powers, has been an important avenue by which individuals have exercised their rights where legislation is not compliant with human rights, eg in the case of legislation criminalising homosexuality (Toonen’s case). In about 17 of the complaints brought to the Human Rights Committee by individuals Australia has found to have breached the ICCPR. Article 19 mandates freedom of expression as you point out and Coleman’s case was a Qld case where free speech rights were found to have been violated. Coleman was punished for being in a mall in Townsville and delivering a public address on various issues such as freedom of speech and land rights without the requisite council permit. Mr Coleman was charged with refusing to move and obstructing Police, and when fined refused to pay it. A couple of years later, as you might be aware, Coleman was arrested again for pamphleteering in the same mall, pamphlets characterising a particular Police Officer as corrupt. Although it didn’t go to the Human Rights Committee Coleman was victorious in a 2004 High Court decision upholding his constitutional right to freedom of political expression. I do wish there was a stronger human rights regime than we have in Australia and that other treaties rights could be recognised as part of our common law obligations as was once hoped by the Australian judicial system.

  7. admin says:

    Absolutely agree. Just a sample of some of the Human Rights Treaties/Conventions which are legally binding once ratified. I would like to devote an entire section to human rights laws including Declarations despite their non-binding nature.

    International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (including First and Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR)
    International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights
    International Convention on the Rights of the Child
    International Convention on The Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
    International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
    Convention Against Torture, and other forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading Treatment or Punishment

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