RadioBDC Logo
| Listen Live
< Back to front page Text size +

Egypt's Internet outage shows the Web's power — and its weakness

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  January 28, 2011 02:06 PM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

In a stark reminder of the power authoritarian governments still wield over the flow of information, even in the age of Twitter and Facebook, Egypt shut down the Internet inside its borders early this morning.

Amid a growing protest movement that was using social networking sites to organize massive anti-government rallies, the regime of Hosni Mubarak simply switched off Internet and cell phone access for the vast majority of the country.

According to an AP report:

Egypt has apparently done what many technologists thought was unthinkable for any country with a major Internet economy: It unplugged itself entirely from the Internet to try and silence dissent.

According to a report in a British newspaper, up to 88 percent of Egyptian Internet access was shut down overnight. (The Egyptian Stock Exchange was one of the few spots in Egypt that remained online.)

A Massachusetts scientist interviewed by the AP said that in a nation like Egypt, cutting off the Internet would have been surprising easy:

Craig Labovitz, chief scientist for Arbor Networks, a Chelmsford, Mass., security company, said that in countries such as Egypt — with a centralized government and a relatively small number of fiber-optic cables and other ways for the Internet to get piped in — the companies that own the technologies are typically under strict licenses from the government.

"It's probably a phone call that goes out to half a dozen folks who enter a line on a router configuration file and hit return," Labovitz said. "It's like programming your TiVo — you have things that are set up and you delete one. It's not high-level programming."

The news from Egypt revives an ongoing debate about the Internet's often-contradictory role in democracy movements. On the one hand, the Egyptian's government's decision to muzzle the Internet in the wake of the recent Twitter-driven ouster of Tunisia's leader shows that governments like Mubarak's fear the Net's influence.

But, as Evgeny Morozov argued recently in The Net Delusion: the Dark Side of Internet Freedom, while the Internet may help dissidents organize, it has also provided new opportunities for governments to spy on — and, as today's news shows, disrupt — their opponents.

Globe photo: riot police in Egypt clash with protestors on Wednesday.

  • E-mail
  • E-mail this article

    Invalid E-mail address
    Invalid E-mail address

    Sending your article

    Your article has been sent.

ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

Editors' Picks

Tickets for T seat hogs?Tickets for T seat hogs?
Why the MBTA should punish riders who needlessly claim more than one seat.
T-shirts and democracyT-shirts and democracy
What souvenir sales teach us about reform in Myanmar
Lessons from Kony 2012Lessons from Kony 2012
Why Invisible Children films are the new textbook of civic engagement.
The Angle's comments policy