Amid growing protests of President Mubarak’s thirty-year autocratic rule, the Egyptian government has shut down the nation’s Internet and wireless networks, as well as stripped Al Jazeera of its broadcasting license and press cards. The President’s presumed goal is to abate protest organizations’ recruitment and assembly efforts via social websites and to limit news coverage both within and outside Egypt.

Foreigners have responded by helping Egyptians communicate with the outside world. Google set up a voicemail system whereby anyone with a land line phone can call and leave a message, which is then shared via Twitter. 4Chan members are faxing international dial-up Internet credentials to provide web access. Even hand radio operators are aiding the effort.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins are reintroducing the “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act,” also known as the “Kill Switch” bill. The Act would give the executive branch the authority to disconnect crucial websites or networks in the event of a cyberattack or cyberemergency.

Civil rights and digital watchdog groups are lobbying to ensure action only under severe, demonstrable threats, to provide for legislative review of classification of “critical infrastructure,” and to ensure general First Amendment rights of online access and communication. Yet, the proposed legislation raises more concerns than just the abrogation of expression. If exercised, how might it affect online commerce? Will there be exceptions for national security networking? More significantly, what exactly is a cyberemergency? In a country that has become so dependent on instant communication and the worldwide marketplace, strong opposition to this proposed avenue of executive power can be expected.

Andrew Ralls

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