(Scott Nelson for The New York Times)
Around midnight on Thursday, January 26th, 5 out of 6 major internet providers (ISPs) in Egypt shut down within 20 minutes of each other. The only ISP spared was Noor Data Network, which hosts the Egyptian stock exchange. The New York Times reports that the Egyptian government also simultaneously got companies to stop all cell phone service within the country, although some service seems to have returned over the weekend.
According to Scientific American, in “How Was Egypt’s Internet Shut Off?,” this closely timed shutoff could only have come from a behind-the-scenes request from a government afraid of the local and global information-sharing efforts of a population in rebellion. How did the Egyptian government create this unprecedented shutoff of the flow of information? Vodaphone, the UK-based cell phone service provider who restarted service on Saturday, says:
We would like to make it clear that the authorities in Egypt have the technical capability to close our network, and if they had done so it would have taken much longer to restore services to our customers.
It has been clear to us that there were no legal or practical options open to Vodafone, or any of the mobile operators in Egypt, but to comply with the demands of the authorities.
What do people think about this? How does this seem in light of Karine Nahon’s definition of freedom of speech as “the right to inform and to know?” Do you agree with Jim Cowie, CTO/cofounder of Rensys, who speculates that this could not happen in the U.S.?
Anyway, lest we go too far down the path of doom and gloom, I’ll leave you with a quote from Mohammed el-Nawawy, a professor of communications:
“The government has made a big mistake taking away the option at people’s fingertips,” he said. “They’re taking their frustration to the streets.”