Feb 092011
Authors: Ryan Gibbons and Glen Pfeiffer

Two weeks ago, Egypt made history as the government ordered the largest scale Internet shut down the world has ever seen, totally blacking out its citizens connectivity. They did it as a method of cutting off communication, preventing citizens from organizing more riots.

The net came back online five days later, but not before ingenuity started to overcome. Google had already rolled out a “voice-to-tweet” service, which allowed the Egyptians to call in on their landlines (cell service was shut down too) and have Google post their tweets from afar.

Many of our friends asked us how it would even be possible to shut down the Internet, so we’ll answer that quickly right here.
Egypt has more Internet service providers than most countries in the region, and the five largest aren’t even based there (Vodaphone in the UK is the primary owner of the largest provider). However, the majority of the infrastructure in Egypt, the actual lines that carry the data from all these service providers, is owned by Telecom Egypt.

Naturally, Telecom Egypt is majority owned by the government.

The ISP’s that the government didn’t control itself fell in line within hours … because that’s the way the cookie crumbles in a dictatorship.

The second question that was raised among students on campus was, “Could our government shut down the Internet here in America the same way?”

Not really, as it stands right now, but there has been legislation introduced by Independent Senator Joe Lieberman. Last June, he proposed the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010, which theoretically would allow our President to do the same thing.

Personally, we don’t see that our government should have any more right to claim the Internet as a “national asset” any more than it could claim the moon as one, but hey, here’s the argument for doing so anyway.

Our government networks, including Department of Defense’s, are under cyber attack every minute of every day by all manner of hackers, including those from other government entities like China.

Somewhere there are hard drives full of classified information.

Theoretically, this information can be hacked into on a massive scale … so what would we do if such an attack was close to succeeding?

Enter stage left: the ever-powerful “kill switch.”

The other side would say that the government being able to shut down the Internet is unconstitutional … it’s a private enterprise. While on the topic of enterprise, e-commerce in the U.S., according to the U.S. census bureau, accounted for $142 billion spent in retail alone. That’s nearly $2 billion lost for the five day period Egypt’s Internet was down. These days, the Internet is a huge part of the U.S. business model and five days without could be crippling.

It’s also important to consider the power the Internet holds. Maybe it doesn’t seem relevant to us now, but many moons ago we were revolting against those darn red coats.

Having the ability to communicate instantly between ourselves could be pretty darn important.

We’re not saying we’re planning a revolt anytime soon, but you never know.

Then there’s the fact that the only reason the Internet is what it is today is because of its open nature.

Columnists Ryan Gibbons and Glen Pfeiffer think that if J-Biebs can mangle his name like that, the Independent Senator from Connecticut can go by Jo-Liebs. You know the drill –– e-mail us at verve@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:29 pm

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