Killing the Internet

When revolutionaries took to the streets in Egypt last week, the Mubarak government called out the police and the military to stop the demonstrations.  Then they got desperate and cut off the internet.  Government leaders realized that the demonstrators were able to use the internet to organize regional protests and then share the pictures and sound of those demonstrations with others nationwide, galvanizing the entire country and tying them together with information. 

 When Egypt shut down social media and the internet, the Obama administration immediately began calling on Hosni Mubarak to turn it all back on.  The White House called it an infringement freedom of speech and expression.  It is clear President Obama wants no hindrance to the free use of the internet without censorship, at least in other countries.

 It is ironic that as Egypt is shutting down the internet to stop opposition, that the U.S. Congress is again ready to debate an internet “kill switch” bill here in the United States.  Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins is the main sponsor.  The bill failed to move out of committee in the last session, but now it will be introduced again and, some believe, it could now move forward to a full vote in the Senate.  It would give the power to the President and the military to throw the “kill switch” and shut down the internet in the United States in times of national turmoil or threat. 

 In George Orwell's “1984”, controlling the media and the message was a critical component of a strategy to quell dissent.  Controlling communication is also a long-time tactic on the battlefield.  According to “The 33 Strategies of War” by Robert Greene, the reason General Douglas McArthur was able to defeat the Japanese in the Pacific is because he cut off their regional communication and threw their supply line system into chaos.  The sponsor of the “kill switch” for the internet bill says there may come a time when we need to isolate communications during a terrorist attack. 

 The bill soon to be re-introduced is called the “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2011”, and the framers say it is about protection, not oppression.  Of course, the people of Egypt found out that when the fire of dissent starts burning, some of the tools that are designed to protect can also be used as a weapon. 

 There is another reason there may be a need to shut down the internet in America.  If some terrorists try to attack us in cyberspace, the writers of the bill say the President can shut it down and save the system from severe damage. 

 It's a difficult balancing act.  When the bill comes up for discussion in Congress, it may be time to let your representative know how you feel.  If the Administration would ever use this “internet kill switch” then the web in America would be under the control of the TSA.  More than enough reason, perhaps, to not let that happen.

Categories: Becker’s Digital Notebook