By now almost everyone connected to the Internet knows that Egypt has literally cut off the entire country from Internet access and mobile telecommunication. Aside from joy at the contagious challenge to dictators we see unfolding in the region, and concern about the safety of the people there, we have two immediate observations. First, Tunisia and now Egypt stand as powerful checks on the increasingly popular view that transnational connections and Internet freedom, or freedom of communications generally, make no difference in the struggle against authoritarianism. While there is no automatic pathway from open networks to liberal democracy, and while it would be absurd to say that networking in isolation is more important than street protests or other forms of struggle, the fact that dictators have felt required to cut off Internet access in response to popular mobilizations speaks for itself. Evgeny Morozov should receive some kind of award for the worst timing for a book release in recent memory. Second, Egypt should completely discredit, once and for all, Senator Joe Lieberman's attempt to saddle the United States with an institutionalized capacity to do what Egypt has just done. According to Senator Lieberman, the Internet is a ‘US national asset’, and the US should have the power to shut it down on the basis of a 'cyber 911'. But if the President wrongly decides that a public revolt is a 'cyber 911' or that street protests against the government are an act of 'terrorism', who will be able to counter it when we can't communicate? From this moment on, Mubarak and Lieberman should be paired together as exemplars of absurd and unworkable policies.
Posted on by Milton Mueller