Boing Boing contributors have been doing a fascinating job of documenting the place of the Internet and social media in the ongoing turmoil spreading across Arabic countries. Until recently the focus had been on the use of social media tools by activists, but in the last few days, the empire has struck back. In particular the Egyptian state has effectively ‘turned off’ the Internet, cutting Net access and communications between Egypt and the rest of the world.
What’s particularly interesting is that the rulers of western ‘democracies’ seem to want similar powers. I’ve been writing about the growing movement amongst states to develop powers to split or close the Internet entirely for some time (see here, here and here, for example). Most recently, I reported on French efforts to develop Internet censorship power in wide-ranging circumstances, and as Sean Bonner on BB points out, a bill was introduced into Congress last year by, it’s that man again, Joe Liebermann, to give the USA government even greater powers to cut off civilian access to the Net entirely in the event of a ‘cyber-emergency’.
This is not a drill, people, this is happening…
I write this addition to my ongoing series of thoughts on the implications of the Wikileaks scandal, en Francais because according to Le Point, the the Assemblée Nationale has passed a bill, Loppsi 2, which, amongst other things, in its Article 4, allows the French government to ban particular websites, and essentially to ‘filter’ the Internet. The Bill of course has ‘good intentions’, in this case, it is aimed at paedophiles, but the wording is such that it allows a far wider use against “la cybercriminalité en général”. Regardless, as the article points out: “Les expériences de listes noires à l’étranger ont toutes été des fiascos,” in other words such bills have generally been a complete failure as in most cases the state’s technology and expertise cannot deliver what the law allows.
However, I am left wondering what makes this any different from what China does, and what moral right the French state now has to criticise Chinese censorship or indeed any other regime that is repressive of information rights. And of course, what other very reasonable ‘good intentions’ could be drawn upon for closing the Net – opposing ‘information terrorism’, par example?