In the above Economist article, the shutting down of the internet is highlighted as a common subversive measure used against citizens. Unfortunately for Americans, the article begins with the U.S. government as an example. Only three days before Egypt shut down internet access, the United States, “reintroduced a bill granting the president emergency powers to shut down parts of the nation’s internet as a defense against cyber-attack.”
Should our government ever maintain the power to encroach upon our right to internet access? While proponents of the bill argue that it could prove crucial in the event of a cyber attack, I fail to see the validity of this counterargument. This bill is certainly not what one would expect from a country founded on the ideals of freedom of speech and a lessening of government power.
In addition to Egypt, Tunisia, Myanmar, and Nepal have witnessed severing of domestic internet access in response to anti-government demonstrations. In 2009, I fell victim to a government attack on internet access. In the midst of race riots in Xinjiang, the Chinese government blocked access to Facebook and Twitter across Mainland China as well as e-mail, texting, and the majority of websites in Xinjiang.
While a similar action by the U.S. government is highly unlikely, the future is uncertain. Still, regardless of how our country changes over the next few decades there is no event in which internet disruption should be facilitated by the government.
According to this article, “Estonia made internet access a human right in 2000.” Perhaps the United States should as well. It is hypocritical to praise Egyptians and Tunisians for their citizen-led uprisings while following in their governments’ footsteps as we push for a bill that seeks to undermine our citizen’s internet access.
It seems to me that the governments of the world are entirely capable of disabling the internet in the event that it conflicts with national security. The only logical reason why the U.S. would seek a “kill switch” that could disrupt our internet access would be if they sought to censor internal dissent. Such a kill switch would enable them to block communication without the consent of internet service providers (ISPS).
I don’t honestly think that the U.S. is being hurled into an Orwellian regime, where the government disrupts citizens’ basic right to internet access in order to quell opposition. However, this recent bill is an affront to our basic rights as citizens and I worry about its consequences in the distant future.