CyberTyranny

Egypt’s strongman Hosni Mubarak has cut off his country from the internet in an effort to thwart the protesters’ ability to organize and share information.  In other popular democratic uprisings, such as the recent one in Iran, Facebook, Twitter , and other online sites have proven critical.  And yet, as this article shows, those same technologies are being used by tyrants to crush dissent:

The Iranian police eagerly followed the electronic trails left by activists, which assisted them in making thousands of arrests in the crackdown that followed. The government even crowd-sourced its hunt for enemies, posting on the Web the photos of unidentified demonstrators and inviting Iranians to identify them.

“The Iranian government has become much more adept at using the Internet to go after activists,” said Faraz Sanei, who tracks Iran at Human Rights Watch. The Revolutionary Guard, the powerful political and economic force that protects the ayatollahs’ regime, has created an online surveillance center and is believed to be behind a “cyberarmy” of hackers that it can unleash against opponents, he said.

Repressive regimes around the world may have fallen behind their opponents in recent years in exploiting new technologies — not unexpected when aging autocrats face younger, more tech-savvy opponents. But in Minsk and Moscow, Tehran and Beijing, governments have begun to climb the steep learning curve and turn the new Internet tools to their own, antidemocratic purposes.

The countertrend has sparked a debate over whether the conventional wisdom that the Internet and social networking inherently tip the balance of power in favor of democracy is mistaken. A new book, “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom,” by a young Belarus-born American scholar, Evgeny Morozov, has made the case most provocatively, describing instance after instance of strongmen finding ways to use new media to their advantage.

After all, the very factors that have brought Facebook and similar sites such commercial success have huge appeal for a secret police force. A dissident’s social networking and Twitter feed is a handy guide to his political views, his career, his personal habits and his network of like-thinking allies, friends and family. A cybersurfing policeman can compile a dossier on a regime opponent without the trouble of the street surveillance and telephone tapping required in a pre-Net world. . . .

Widney Brown, senior director of international law and policy at Amnesty International, said the popular networking services, like most technologies, are politically neutral.

“There’s nothing deterministic about these tools — Gutenberg’s press, or fax machines or Facebook,” Ms. Brown said. “They can be used to promote human rights or to undermine human rights.”

via Spotlight Again Falls on Web Tools and Change – NYTimes.com.

Hey, even in my field of academia, administrators are doing this sort of thing to catch misbehaving students.  At Marquette, a vandalism case was solved when a student bragged about what he did on FaceBook and posted pictures of himself doing it!  He was very indignant about the university violating his privacy!  (You do see the irony of that, don’t you?)

But what about this?  That the internet can be used to restrict liberty and to stamp out dissent?

HT:  tODD

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • WebMonk

    “Egypt’s strongman Hosni Mubarak has cut off his country from the internet ….”
    A little bit behind the times. Internet access was restored a couple days ago.

    Your point remains, but I just wanted to put in that clarification.

  • WebMonk

    “Egypt’s strongman Hosni Mubarak has cut off his country from the internet ….”
    A little bit behind the times. Internet access was restored a couple days ago.

    Your point remains, but I just wanted to put in that clarification.

  • SKPeterson

    I think the positives far outweigh the negatives in expanding technology. The disturbing thing is that the U.S. government is also asking to have the same level of power, if not more, over internet and phone communications, but technological obstacles for doing so in advanced countries like the U.S. are substantial. Here’s one recent take: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/hottopics/detail?entry_id=82406 . (Since its the SF Chronicle take it or leave it.) Internet kill switches are more effective in developing countries that have limited infrastructure and some type of state monopoly control on telecommunications.

  • SKPeterson

    I think the positives far outweigh the negatives in expanding technology. The disturbing thing is that the U.S. government is also asking to have the same level of power, if not more, over internet and phone communications, but technological obstacles for doing so in advanced countries like the U.S. are substantial. Here’s one recent take: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/hottopics/detail?entry_id=82406 . (Since its the SF Chronicle take it or leave it.) Internet kill switches are more effective in developing countries that have limited infrastructure and some type of state monopoly control on telecommunications.

  • WebMonk

    If it wanted to (ignoring legalities) the US govt could cut off 80% of the nation’s internet access to the outside world within an hour. There are a fairly small number of points where data passes from outside the US to inside.

    Now, that would disrupt things just inside the US, but wouldn’t shut everything down inside, so a website hosted in Topeka would probably still be visible to someone in Atlanta.

    Of the remaining 20% of connections to the outside world, 80% are through thousands of smaller connections, and those would be exceedingly difficult to track down and shut down, if for no other reason than their number and relative obscurity.

    Then there is the last little bit that goes through all sorts of various other connections – modems overlandlines, direct-to-satellite, etc. Those would be impossible to shut down without shutting down every bit of computer equipment with any sort of communication ability in the country. Virtually impossible.

    However, they don’t really need to worry about that last little bit much since such a small portion of the population could access it in the timeframe we’re seeing in Egypt.

    What we did see in Egypt was the proliferation of a lot of ways to get around the blackout, such as with landlines, and piggybacking on the few Internet access points that were left up for a while longer (some financial institutions were allowed to keep their access to let the banking system continue working, but then a day later this too was shut down).

    Full internet access was mostly cut off except through modems connecting through landlines to foreign ISPs, but other things were made available to enable things like Twitter to get out through voice to text translation over regular phone calls.

    Even in Egypt things weren’t able to be shut down entirely, and in the US, it would be a thousand times more difficult to cut things off to the same level.

  • WebMonk

    If it wanted to (ignoring legalities) the US govt could cut off 80% of the nation’s internet access to the outside world within an hour. There are a fairly small number of points where data passes from outside the US to inside.

    Now, that would disrupt things just inside the US, but wouldn’t shut everything down inside, so a website hosted in Topeka would probably still be visible to someone in Atlanta.

    Of the remaining 20% of connections to the outside world, 80% are through thousands of smaller connections, and those would be exceedingly difficult to track down and shut down, if for no other reason than their number and relative obscurity.

    Then there is the last little bit that goes through all sorts of various other connections – modems overlandlines, direct-to-satellite, etc. Those would be impossible to shut down without shutting down every bit of computer equipment with any sort of communication ability in the country. Virtually impossible.

    However, they don’t really need to worry about that last little bit much since such a small portion of the population could access it in the timeframe we’re seeing in Egypt.

    What we did see in Egypt was the proliferation of a lot of ways to get around the blackout, such as with landlines, and piggybacking on the few Internet access points that were left up for a while longer (some financial institutions were allowed to keep their access to let the banking system continue working, but then a day later this too was shut down).

    Full internet access was mostly cut off except through modems connecting through landlines to foreign ISPs, but other things were made available to enable things like Twitter to get out through voice to text translation over regular phone calls.

    Even in Egypt things weren’t able to be shut down entirely, and in the US, it would be a thousand times more difficult to cut things off to the same level.

  • Dust

    Why the need to shut the network down? Don’t the “authorities” have an arsenal of viruses and other kinds of powerful, nasty bugs that can worm their way onto everyone’s computer and shut them down that way? Like they did in Iran? Just asking :)

  • Dust

    Why the need to shut the network down? Don’t the “authorities” have an arsenal of viruses and other kinds of powerful, nasty bugs that can worm their way onto everyone’s computer and shut them down that way? Like they did in Iran? Just asking :)

  • WebMonk

    The huge diversity of computer systems eliminates the possibility of that happening – the Iranian virus worked because it had a particular type of system that it knew very well and only focused on that type of system.

    Covering all the different versions of Windows, all the different flavors of Linux, all the SunOS, etc couldn’t possibly be done with a single virus until you start getting into some sort of currently-sci-fi virus like was seen in Transformers.

  • WebMonk

    The huge diversity of computer systems eliminates the possibility of that happening – the Iranian virus worked because it had a particular type of system that it knew very well and only focused on that type of system.

    Covering all the different versions of Windows, all the different flavors of Linux, all the SunOS, etc couldn’t possibly be done with a single virus until you start getting into some sort of currently-sci-fi virus like was seen in Transformers.

  • Dust

    Whew, thanks Webmonk….and thank God for diversity in computer operating systems! Shame on all those who would like to see anyone of those dominate…am thinking of all those Linux bozos, who in the name of “free” and “compatibility” or whatever claims whatsoever would be willing to sacrifice some theoretical computer security so that all the computer world may be one…just like Coca Cola, yuck! Given your wise answer, sounds like if they had it their way, there could be a possible universal sabotage of everyone’s system, yikes! Do you know if the same kind of safety in numbers applies to all the routers and modems? Forgive me for my naivete (sp?) but was under the impression the vast majority are made by Cisco, if not designed by them? In any case, am sure it would never happen here…thanks again Webmonk :)

  • Dust

    Whew, thanks Webmonk….and thank God for diversity in computer operating systems! Shame on all those who would like to see anyone of those dominate…am thinking of all those Linux bozos, who in the name of “free” and “compatibility” or whatever claims whatsoever would be willing to sacrifice some theoretical computer security so that all the computer world may be one…just like Coca Cola, yuck! Given your wise answer, sounds like if they had it their way, there could be a possible universal sabotage of everyone’s system, yikes! Do you know if the same kind of safety in numbers applies to all the routers and modems? Forgive me for my naivete (sp?) but was under the impression the vast majority are made by Cisco, if not designed by them? In any case, am sure it would never happen here…thanks again Webmonk :)

  • WebMonk

    Are you being serious Dust? Most Linux variants are a thousand times more secure than Windows. If the entire world shifted to different variants of Linux, then the computers of the world would be darned near virus-proof. They wouldn’t be so easy to use, because most Linux distributions aren’t as user-friendly as Windows, but they are MUCH more secure.

    Somewhere you’ve gotten some of your facts about computer security completely backwards.

    Routers, bridges, and hubs are a much more uniform product, with Cisco being like Microsoft of OSs – massive market domination. However, routers and hubs are much more simple things than computers, and are as much hardware and firmware as they are software. The software is extremely simple compared to OSs, and are much better at security. Viruses can do very, very little to routers, even though routers are very uniform compared to OSs.

  • WebMonk

    Are you being serious Dust? Most Linux variants are a thousand times more secure than Windows. If the entire world shifted to different variants of Linux, then the computers of the world would be darned near virus-proof. They wouldn’t be so easy to use, because most Linux distributions aren’t as user-friendly as Windows, but they are MUCH more secure.

    Somewhere you’ve gotten some of your facts about computer security completely backwards.

    Routers, bridges, and hubs are a much more uniform product, with Cisco being like Microsoft of OSs – massive market domination. However, routers and hubs are much more simple things than computers, and are as much hardware and firmware as they are software. The software is extremely simple compared to OSs, and are much better at security. Viruses can do very, very little to routers, even though routers are very uniform compared to OSs.


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