(K. McCaffrey) — In Egypt, the internet has effectively been shut off. One of my favorite websites, www.accessnow.org/, which looks to preserve freedom by upholding internet access, is working hard on cracking this. (They also continually try to liberate freedom of information for Iranian citizens.) I really love the work they do and hope they have success so that we may learn more about what is happening in Egypt.
Whenever I see these types of censorship issues, I feel incredibly thankful to have been born in the US and incredibly sorry for those campaigning for freedom across the world. After all, opposition groups in oppressive regimes find their greatest success through sharing information. In many cases, totalitarian regimes operate through an intricate network of lies and coercement. (See also: The Stasi, KGB, North Korea…) This is not usually possible if there is contrasting evidence that is found to be more legitimate or credible. (For instance, the democratic Western way of living is probably more appealing when it’s portrayal is not perverted and monopolized by a megalomaniac religious zealot.) Our country isn’t perfect, but at least we don’t have to worry about being cut off from the web of information and communication that the internet provides. At least we can have arguments and conversations about our political persuasions. (Well, most of the time.)
This is all, of course, assuming the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) is not passed since it “proposes the creation of two blacklists of internet domain names: one administered by the courts, the other by the Attorney General. Any website where counterfeit goods or copyrighted material is “central to the activity of the Internet site” would be blocked.”
The U.S. government has plans for its own Internet Kill Switch. The legislation was first introduced last summer by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), and the former has promised to bring it to the floor again in 2011. It isn’t called anything as obvious as the Internet Kill Switch, of course. It is called the “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act.” Who could be against that? Anyone who’s watching the news on TV today, that’s who.
The proposal calls for the Department of Homeland Security to establish and maintain a list of systems or assets that constitute critical cyber-infrastructure. The President would be able to be able to control those systems. He or she would have ability to turn them off. The kicker: none of this would be subject to judicial review. This is just a proposal, mind you, but it certainly warrants concern. Particularly given the heavy-handed example being provided by Egypt.
Let us hope that this Egyptian crisis marks the end of these tactics, not the beginning of an age for their abuse.
Also, there is some great coverage from the American students in Cornell reported on the CornellInsider, the blog of the Cornell Review.