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Egypt, learning from Tunisia, squelches electronic speech

January 28, 2011 |  2:56 pm

Renesys image This must be the next logical step after the social-media-fueled uprising in Tunisia: The Egyptian government cut off Internet access for customers of Telecom Egypt (the government-owned telephone company) shortly after midnight Friday (local time in Egypt) as protests were heating up. The other broadband providers quickly followed suit, leading James Cowie of the Renesys blog to speculate that government officials were on the phones making offers the ISPs couldn't refuse.

Blocking the Net is a drastic and chilling step, the kind of thing that would be unthinkable in a democracy that values free speech and the free flow of information. Or not: As Wired noted, a bill that Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) sponsored in 2009 would have allowed the president to disconnect "critical infrastructure" from the Internet if needed in an emergency. The bill left the designation of what constituted "critical infrastructure" up to the president.

The idea drew so much flak, the provision was dropped from a later draft. Besides, the point of the bill, as with competing House and Senate cyber-security proposals, was to keep vital U.S. resources from being blocked or hijacked via the Net -- in other words, to keep them operating in the event of an attack, not to isolate them from the public.

Anyway, cutting off Internet access wouldn't stop people from sending text messages far and wide. That's why the government apparently ordered mobile phone operators to shut their networks down too.

RELATED:

Cairo's restless streets

Is real democracy an option in Egypt?

-- Jon Healey

Credit: Renesys.com blog

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