Egypt pulled the plug on the Internet. They pretty much shut it right down. Mobile and even land line phone service has also been disrupted. This is the act of a desperate government.
President Hosni Mubarak's regime is done for. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but soon enough.
I am reminded of the Solidarity movement in Poland. Back then, the cutting edge communication technology was the fax machine. That's how the people in the opposition kept in contact with each other. The Polish government shut down the communication system. That did stop the revolution in its tracks, but only for a while. Eventually, the Communist government fell.
There are many factors that contribute to a revolution. Poland and the Arab world have vast differences. However, there is a common thread that runs though all revolutions. The government has no legitimacy. The average person does not respect the government, nor do they think it represents them.
Killing the Internet and phone service does not make the problems go away. Indeed, it only points a spotlight on the government's desperation. People who weren't involved have their lives shut down along with the protesters. Everyone then has real and immediate reasons to get angry. A government that punishes everyone, guilty or innocent, isn't making any friends.
Countries that use an Internet kill switch are making a big mistake. It's a sign of weakness, not strength. They can't satisfy the needs and aspirations of their people, so they turn to force to keep them in line. That doesn't always go as planned. Already, reports are coming out of riot police stripping off their badges and joining the rioters. Cops are people too. The system isn't working too well for them either.
The problems of people in the Arab world are not unique. It's getting tough for the average Joe to make a living. When people feel they have nothing to lose, then it's only a matter of time before they strike out. Might as well. It's the only response left to them.
Right now, in the United States, most people still feel they have something to lose. Desperation, while wide spread, isn't universal. The fact that segments of the government are pushing for an Internet kill switch tells me that maybe they expect things to get a whole lot worse. What purpose does a kill switch have but to stifle dissent? Times are tough all over, and the man on the street sees that government and business elites have more in common with their International counterparts than with their own people. It's a recipe for disaster.
Killing the Internet and phone communications also pretty much kills a good portion of a country's business activity. How long can do that? Forever? At what cost? What about the people who can't call for an ambulance, or the Fire Department? Suddenly communications are set back over 200 years.
Should the Internet and phones go down in your country, what can you do? Various forms of two way radio could help: everything from short distance family band radios to short wave HAM radios that can talk to the world. CB and marine band radios can spread useful info. If you live in a city and the phones are down. it might be possible to get emergency services by pulling the old fashioned fire alarm box. Those systems are often simple and robust. They are separate from the phone lines and have their own backup power.
Just because a kill switch is a bad idea doesn't mean we won't see it's use spread all around the world. Things are going to get very interesting in an awful lot of places.
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