As usual, Conan O’Brien may have said it best: “If you want people to stay at home and do nothing, you should turn the internet back on.”
The Egyptian government seemingly has learned that shutting down the Internet is no way to get protesters to be quiet, and today it turned the Web back on after protests succeeded in spite of the five-day blackout.
“Egyptian Internet providers returned to the Internet at 09:29:31 UTC (11:29 a.m. Cairo time),” said a blog post by Net monitoring firm Renesys today. Indeed, a variety of Egyptian Web sites, including the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the Central Bank of Egypt, and the Egyptian Stock Exchange are available. And Twitter activity relating to Egypt is surging. [CNET]
Cell phones are coming back online for many people, too, though it’s not clear yet when everything will be fully restored.
In the end, the government’s attempt to kill the Internet proved a dismal failure. The world rallied to give disconnected Egyptians ways to work around the blackout, and the suppression of free speech fueled the fire of protest.
Supplies are dwindling, journalists are being arrested, and protests continue in Egypt today, with a mass demonstration planned for tomorrow. And still, the nation is Internet silent—almost. We remarked on Friday about this historic act of government internet censorship, but just how did the Egyptian government manage to shut down nearly all Internet communication coming out of the country?
It wasn’t a “kill switch,” experts say—the Egyptian government didn’t push a button and take down the country’s Internet service providers. Rather, Egyptian ISPs all must have licenses with the state and follow the government’s regulations, however draconian they may be. So if the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority called and told them to shut down, they didn’t have much choice.
That comports with the data published by Renesys, a net monitoring firm, which saw individual ISPs go dark within minutes of one another. “First impressions: this sequencing looks like people getting phone calls, one at a time, telling them to take themselves off the air,” wrote Renesys’s chief scientist James Cowie. “Not an automated system that takes all providers down at once; instead, the incumbent leads and other providers follow meekly one by one until Egypt is silenced.” [Wired]
The fact that so much censorship happened so quickly is a result of the relative simplicity of Egypt’s Internet, Cowie said in an interview with Scientific American.
“If you look at a complex system such as those in the United States or Canada, you might ask, ‘How many phone calls would I have to make to shut it down?’ It probably wouldn’t be possible. Most of the people you would call operate independent of the government and wouldn’t even listen to you. In a place like Egypt there’s a lot less diversity in that ecosystem. There were just a few key providers, they’re all licensed by the government.” [Scientific American]
You know it’s getting serious when people aren’t using Facebook. The social networking giant now says it has noticed significantly reduced traffic from Egypt as a result of the Egyptian government’s attempt to shut down its country’s Internet this week to quash political protests. Though we’ve seen governments attempt to censor the Internet in times of uprising before (like during the 2009 Iranian election), Forbes says this is “the first time in modern history a major Internet economy is being shut down.”
Mobile phone networks have reportedly been disrupted, leaving millions without access to text messaging or phone calls. The country’s key Internet Service Providers are also off the air, says James Cowie, the chief technology officer of Internet monitoring firm Renesys on his blog. “Virtually all of Egypt’s Internet addresses are now unreachable, worldwide. [Forbes]
Indeed, Cowie says, this is something new compared to other government internet censorship:
Similar demonstrations and Web outages are occurring in Tunisia, though Cowie noted that the Egypt Internet downtime “is a completely different situation from the modest Internet manipulation that took place in Tunisia, where specific routes were blocked, or Iran, where the Internet stayed up in a rate-limited form designed to make Internet connectivity painfully slow.” [PC Magazine]
Thoughts of a government being able to just “turn off the Internet” has people in other countries frightened, but it was particularly easy to achieve in Egypt.