Masses will protect Internet rights

Protesters in Maghreb and the Middle East have used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, along with other tools, to spread their messages and stage massive rallies.

Their actions have further legitimated the organizational and communicative power of social media.

Sadly, the protests have also shown how far the world still needs to come to achieve Internet freedom.

In response to the use of social media, the Egyptian government cut off the Internet, shutting down all major Egyptian ISP and mobile phone providers, cutting the Egyptian people off from sites like Twitter, e-mail accounts and mobile communication.

It’s an intensely shocking and radical move, perpetrated by a dictator trying to subdue a powerful opposition to his reign.

But what is more frightening is how easily it could happen in the rest of the world, particularly the United States.

How is that possible?

Egypt is a military dictatorship, that is actively trying to cut off any form of communication that opposition groups might use.

So how could that same thing happen here in the United States?

The exactly same way it happened in Egypt: the kill switch.

After failing in December, the proposed legislation is back in Congress.

Championed by Connecticut Democrat Senator Joseph Lieberman, along with Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins, the bill would not allow the president to exercise the exact kind of Internet shut-off that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak performed, but it still creates a similar scenario.

The current President could shut down Internet connectivity with “critical infrastructure” as well as parts of the private sector in the face of an imminent threat.

These terms are not clearly defined, leaving them open for interpretation from the government.

That basically means anything could be shut down if there is a “threat” against it.

Clearly, this is a terrible idea.

Yes, cybersecurity is an important topic, and greater security measures for national infrastructure are necessary, but this proposed legislature is more or less taking a chainsaw to what would be a very acute problem.

Not only is the kill switch proposal a bad bill, but it would also be an ineffective bill if passed.

It fails to take into account just how adept people, especially Americans, are at accessing the Internet and using technology.

In Egypt, when Mubarak shut down the Internet, the Egyptian people rallied together using modems, foreign ISPs and other ways to reach the outside world, and in some cases, connect to the Web.

Not everyone got through, but many people still found ways to stay connected.

Even with the Internet shut down, guerrilla communication reigned.

If the Egyptians can get around these blocks, imagine what Americans could do.

Would the Internet giants simply sit and let this happen? Would Google do nothing and let itself be shut out?

Would Mark Zuckerberg who, as history and The Social Network taught us, created the website Facemash in one night while drunk, let millions of Facebook users go without a connection?


And that’s not taking into account all other Internet users in the country.

Whereas a decade ago tech skills might have been exclusive to the Matrix-bred hacker subculture, today’s generation of youth is more than capable of building websites, using proxies and getting around any sort of censor.

The people of this generation are familiar with peer-to-peer sharing, hacking Wi-Fi sources for a greater signal and dozens of other skills that any government cannot begin to predict.

If they want to get their message out on the Internet, they will.

It took Google and Twitter less than a week to launch Speak2Tweet and connect the disconnected Egyptians with the outside world.

Imagine if they dedicated their entire staffs to restoring a cut off United States, with the raw hardware and machines available.

Working with American youth, it would be an unstoppable movement for connection.

Today, the Internet and computers are not tools for a cultural clique, but a mainstream medium of exchange, one that people fight to hold on to. Nearly everyone has embraced it.

Our modern world is an advanced one, increasingly developed by our tech savvy generation.

We helped turn the Internet into the social communication device it is today.

We will find a way to stay connected, no matter what switch is flipped.

Nicholas Slayton is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Age of the Geek,” runs Fridays.

For more stories on the crisis in Egypt, click here.

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