On January 27th, Thursday, in the midst of huge anti-government protests, internet traffic to and from Egypt went from 3 gigabits per second to zero. In other words, Egypt was completely cut off from the wider internet, or as the NYT phrases it – “Egypt pulled itself off the grid”.
The suddenness and rapidity of the take-down (or pull-off) set the net buzzing with talk of an ‘internet kill switch’. The suspicion was that the Egyptian government had exercised some sort of technical capacity to shut down connectivity. The fact the event coincided to the day with the re-introduction of a legislation in the US Senate granting ‘internet killing powers’ to the US president no doubt excited the interwebs even further.
As a metaphor, the internet ‘kill switch’ conjures images of a big red button tended by serious-looking men in military uniforms quietly shouldering the weight of their responsibility. No doubt, that was also its intended thought-trajectory. After all, one cannot expect decades of Hollywood indoctrination to go to waste.
As it turns out however, what really happened is much simpler, banal and of a variety that technically-inclined people usually find very hard to fathom. As IT World explains, all it took was a government phone call to each internet service provider with an offer they could not refuse.
“It was individual, craftsmanlike, one-intimidation-at-a-time thuggery, plain and simple.”
What is the lesson in this? Contrary to technical opinion the net is very easy to shut down and you don’t require any complex routing equipment, coding, or legislation for that matter. All it takes is for the state to exercise its one and only true prerogative – violence.