Friday, January 28, 2011

The world goes dark

Yesterday the internet in Egypt went away.  The government has been dealing with fairly extreme protests over the last short while, including rallies of multiple tens of thousands of people clashing with police wielding rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas.  There have been 1000+ arrests and the place is becoming a real mess, but the government really stepped it up when they decided to completely remove the internet from Egypt.

It is hard for me to imagine being there on a bridge, getting blasted by military and police as they try to disperse a crowd disgusted with corruption, dictatorship and poverty.  What I wonder is how do the crimes compare, that of removing the access to information that people rely on and that of physical repression like in the picture above, which was taken very recently in Egypt.  I also wonder what the government is thinking with this move.  Clearly this will make it more difficult to organize mass riots like the ones that have been going on and prevent news from leaking out of the country as efficiently but it will also enrage and terrify the populace, goading them to further action.  Unilaterally removing things people have become entirely reliant on is a great way to encourage revolt and remove sympathy from those outside the country - it seems like it will make organizing riots more difficult but make the number of people wanting to riot drastically increase.  The economic chaos that will be a consequence is also extreme as the reliance on connectivity extends to nearly every facet of life now, including basic consumer interactions.

One of the nuttiest things going is the way in which this is viewed by my giant southern neighbour.  The US currently has a bill going through the system that would give the government power to turn off the internet throughout the country completely, and to do so without any judicial oversight.  Much like the Patriot Act it is being sold as a way to combat cyber crime or cyber terrorism that is in fact just a way to exert more control over the regular populace.  I can hardly imagine what would happen if the government turned off the internet right now as I don't have a yellow pages, a dictionary, or many other basic things like that in my house.  My communication would be destroyed, my calendar wiped, and the world would be entirely reshaped.  I can clearly see why a government would want to control the internet as it makes suppression and control of information by those in charge nearly impossible.  What boggles me is that the people living in the USA, so vocally opposed to government power and so passionately dedicated to doing whatever they want, sit back and allow those in charge to take away their basic freedoms.  Fear is a powerful motivator it would seem.

1 comment:

  1. I think in answer to your question about the Egyptian government thinking through this move, the answer is that this move was only thought through by a single person and he is pretty delusional. Media have been calling the this Egyptian revolution (since it looks like it is actually turning into a revolution) a "social media" revolution, but as one commentator said, you don't go into the streets and risk being beaten, shot, arrested and/or killed because of social media. The protests are filling the streets constantly, it isn't like you need facebook to find them.