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wtf: Egyptian government shuts down Internet access in Egypt

From Declan McCullagh at CNET:

In a stunning development unprecedented in the modern history of the Internet, a country of more than 80 million people has found itself almost entirely disconnected from the rest of the world.

The near-disconnection–at least one Internet provider is still online–comes after days of street protests demanding an end to nearly three decades of autocratic rule by President Hosni Mubarak. Those followed this month’s revolution in Tunisia, another country with little political freedom and high levels of corruption, and reports of overnight arrests and clashes with security forces.

Jim Cowie, chief technology officer at Internet-monitoring firm Renesys, said that at approximately 2:34 p.m. PT, his company “observed the virtually simultaneous withdrawal of all routes to Egyptian networks in the Internet’s global routing table.”…

While the cause of the disruption remains unknown, it seems clear that yanking Egypt’s Internet addresses was a conscious decision, not the result of a fiber cut or a natural disaster. That means Egypt will be 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.

That trickle can be found at the Noor Group, which appears to be the only Internet provider in Egypt that’s fully functioning. (Cairo-based bloggers are speculating that its unique status grows out of its client list, which includes western firms including ExxonMobil, Toyota, Hyatt, Nestle, Fedex, Coca-Cola, and Pfizer, plus the Egyptian stock exchange.)

Well, the money’s gotta flow, right?

Oh, and Mubarak? U.S. ally, of course.

There’s a bill coming before Congress this year that would give the American president the power to shut off only vaugely specified parts of the Internet during whatever s/he might consider a “national cyberemergency,” as well as other unspecified control over and access to the Internet. A version of this bill failed to pass the House last year, but the new one includes a wonderful new provison: the president could do all these things without judicial oversight.

Do you think the planning of antigovernment protests via Twitter, Facebook, and other Web sites might constitute a “national cyberemergency”?

Lori Kozlowski at the Los Angeles Times blog Chatter asks:

[I]t makes one wonder if access to the Internet at this point in history is actually a human right. Just as water, food and other items necessary to everyday life are considered freedoms that every person is entitled to, is access to information and the ability to communicate part of that list?

In a word, yes.

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