Intimidation cut off Egypt from the Internet, not a 'kill switch'

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Amid two weeks' worth of blather about whether the U.S. should have a kill switch for the Internet just like Egypt does are a few inconsistencies that make it look a lot like there is no actual kill switch, and that what Egypt really did relied more on old-fashioned intimidation than on brilliant control of its networks.

This morning's New York Times lays out the steps in Egypt's emergency response in which "In a span of minutes just after midnight on Jan. 28, a technologically advanced, densely wired country with more than 20 million people online was essentially severed from the global Internet."

Not the story most people believed at the time, but nifty nonetheless.

Hosni Mubarak's government didn't shut off Internet communication altogether; it just shut off links connecting intertubes within Egypt from those outside.

Not a "kill switch," really, at least not in the sense of this quote from a Jan. 28 NYT story:

“Almost nobody in Egypt has Internet connectivity. I’ve never seen it happen at this scale,” aid Jim Cowie, the chief technology officer of Renesys, a company based in New Hampshire that tracks Internet traffic.

Egypt didn't cut off all traffic on the Internet. It shut off the relatively limited number of high-bandwidth connections linking internetworks inside the country with the Internet outside. It didn't do much of anything, apparently, to cut off traffic inside the country, or to cut off communications among the protesters.

That's still a pretty powerful weapon, though. One switch or system that can shut off all the links owned by telcos or universities or ISPs or multinationals so no Internet traffic gets in or out of the country?

Not so, according to Human Rights First, a U.S.-based non-profit group that funds research, litigation and lobbying to promote U.S. foreign policies supporting human rights and intercede in conflicts overseas on the side of refugees and populations at risk in situations like the one in Egypt.

The NYT is basically right about the limited number of connections and how the Mubarak government got them shut down, according to the HRF analysis.

It's wrong in presenting it mostly as a technical achievement.

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