killswitch


We have been writing about network shutdowns for a long time. We even formulated a law to explain its workings. Now finally a court has ruled: The judgement reads as, “For what has been discussed above, the instant appeal and the connected petitions are allowed. Consequently, the actions, orders and directives issued by the Federal Government or the Authority, as the case may be, which are inconsistent with the provisions of section 54(3) are declared as illegal, ultra vires and without lawful authority and jurisdiction. The Federal Government or the Authority are, therefore, not vested with the power and jurisdiction to suspend or cause the suspension of mobile cellular services or operations on the ground of national security except as provided under section 54(3).
We first wrote about the phenomenon back in 2006, in relation to the conflict areas in Sri Lanka and Kashmir. We started formulating the issues in terms of Gyanendra’s Law and its various exceptions around the time of the Arab Spring. I wrote the main piece on the subject, sitting in a hotel room in Teheran in February 2011. Since those days, the practice of shutting down networks has become more common, and more sophisticated. The Global Network Initiative has put out a one-pager on the subject: “GNI urges all governments to consult our one-page guide and to weigh carefully the human rights, economic and reputational harms that can flow from the decision to disrupt public access to vital communications services and platforms,” said GNI Executive Director, Judith Lichtenberg.
Yesterday Syria fell off the Internet. Clean cut. Then it came back. Why was it cut? Why did it come back?
Gyanendra’s Law states that those who pull the killswitch do not remain in power too long. Supporting this thesis, Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad has kept his hands off the killswitch for the most part, except at the start of the civil war, and today. Four physical cables connect Syria to the Internet — three under the sea, and the fourth over land through Turkey. For outsiders to cause Tuesday’s outage, security experts say, they would have had to physically cut all four cables simultaneously. That does not appear to have happened in this case, according to security experts.
We’ve had some discussion about the effects of killswitch on this blog. Here is a discussion about full and partial killswitch effects with some nice graphics. When you deliver nearly a third of global Web traffic, you get to see a lot of crazy stuff happen. Akamai Technologies (NASDAQ: AKAM), the global Internet traffic provider, is giving us a glimpse at some of those wild scenarios today in its latest “State of the Internet” report. The company, based in Cambridge, MA, tracks a wide variety of statistics in its quarterly reports, including domestic and global Internet speeds, mobile connectivity, unique IP addresses, and attacks by hackers.
Renesys report how Egypt went dark. They have worked out a way to tell which countries are easiest to cut off from the Internet and which are harder. How many phone calls does it take to kill the internet? It seems like an odd question to ask about a network once thought to be strong enough to withstand a nuclear attack. However, first-strike mushroom clouds aren’t the biggest threat to the internet anymore.
So it appears the al Assad government is becoming more like the Mubarak government. The Internet shutdown severely disrupted the flow of the YouTube videos and Facebook and Twitter posts that have allowed protesters and others to keep track of demonstrations, since foreign news media are banned and state media are heavily controlled. Both land lines and cellphones are so frequently monitored by Syria’s feared secret police that Skype had become a major means of communication among activists, and its loss as a tool may be a blow to the protest movement. Government Web sites, including those for the Ministry of Oil and the state news agency, SANA, remained online. Two-thirds of Syria’s Internet network went offline at 6:35 a.