Could the Mass Internet Shutoffs in Egypt Happen Here in America?
At around 12:30 this morning in Egypt the internet went dead. Thousands of people protesting the current leadership of the country were suddenly without internet and mobile phone service, making it impossible for over 80% of the populous to organize using digital communication. You can read more about the details of the shutoff here. Such a dramatic and almost instantaneous shut-down of a country’s internet service is unprecedented for a country with such a large internet economy. It therefore raises the inevitable question: could the same thing happen here in the U.S.?
Chances are, not easily. Egypt’s internet system is significantly smaller and less complex than that of the United States. Also, the Egyptian government has more strict control over the internet providers in the country, making it much easier to cut it off simultaneously. In America, hundreds to thousands of providers would have to be contacted before the internet could effectively be cut off, and even then, exactly who in the nation would be cut off would be hard to determine. The American government, or any government for that matter, doesn’t have a master switch that can effectively kill a country’s communication in seconds.
However, don’t underestimate a government’s ability to organize. Even with Egypt’s relatively uncomplicated internet system, technology buffs and security specialists still didn’t expect such a thing to be possible. It obviously wasn’t something many expected, and with enough preparation it seems that almost any country could build up their resources to the point of having access to a mass shut-off system, even if it just killed certain areas. If communications were disabled in only parts of our country, it could still severely inhibit our ability to communicate.
I’m not saying the U.S. Government is pursing the formation of a cut off system to stifle our right to protest, but I do think our government would see such a system as a valuable tool to add to their emergency arsenal. Note, I say emergency because I doubt our country would risk the economic impact of disabling internet-based trading and businesses. However if violent and widespread protest was to break out which threatened the government, I do believe the government would resort to killing cell phones and the internet in certain areas, or at least disable social websites if they were able. The Obama Administration has already taken stabs at enforcing federal regulations on the internet. It will be interesting to see what other countries do in the wake of what has happened in Egypt, and how far they will push the envelope in areas of government controlled internet access.