The Egyptian government — or perhaps a mysterious inter-dimensional vortex, we’re not sure which — has shut down some 99 percent of the Internet within Egypt as protests mount demanding that President Hosni Mubarak step down. Mubarak has ruled autocratically for three decades and the protesters are fed up. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other cyber-tools have played a part in their protest, helping them document Egyptians’ clashes with authorities in word and image.
Declan McCullough, a veteran reporter on privacy and the Internet, observes that the Egyptian government is “conducting a high-profile experiment in what happens when a country with a $500 billion GDP, one that’s home to the pyramids and the Suez Canal, decides that Internet access should be restricted to a trickle.”
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, U.S. pols like Senator Joseph Lieberman are again pushing a bill to give the president authority to “declare a cybersecurity emergency” in the event of a crisis and shut down major portions of the Internet. For our own good, of course. No judicial review would be necessary before the executive branch could snap the cyber-spine.
Perhaps American politicians who advocate letting the president throw a so-called kill switch for the Internet in case of emergency would deny any tyrannical intentions. And perhaps their motives are indeed pure . . . in some aesthetic sense. But once you give government new authority to exercise destructive control over us, there is, of course, the temptation to use it.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.