Mubarak Can Cut the Net but Can't Stem Information Flow

Like a cracked sidewalk that still lets the grass poke through, there will always be cracks in whatever information walls governments attempt to erect.
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No matter how many plugs he pulls or cables he cuts, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is not going to completely suppress information flowing within his country or between Egypt and the rest of the world. Information has a way of slipping out, and despite an apparent internet blackout, some people have been able to tweet and post updates to Facebook, and other sites.

In an email, a Facebook spokesperson told me that they "saw a significant drop off in traffic (from Egypt) today," but that "we still see some.", a San Francisco-based social networking site with 200,000 active members in Egypt, reports that traffic is lower than usual but not down completely. We have also seen some tweets out of the region. NPR's Andy Carvin reports that there are several people from around the world tweeting up-to-date reports on what is happening in Egypt.

And, even though there are confirmed reports that the government has ordered cell phone companies to suspend service, some people, including journalists, have been able to make and receive calls. In addition, there are still international journalists reporting from the region including the English language Al Jazeera site, which is live streaming reports from Egypt.

Dial-up to the Rescue

Some people are getting online. The Globe and Mail reports that "Egyptians have turned to the Internet service of choice from more than a decade ago: dial-up access. Activists have been circulating lists of dial-up Internet phone numbers of providers outside Egypt. Because land-lines are still working and the service providers are outside Egyptian government control, users have managed to get some connectivity this way." The blog post also mentions that some people are using satellite-based tools to access the net.

Pulled the Plug Around Midnight

Based on numerous reports as well as analysis by Renyses and other firms that track internet traffic, it appears as if the entire country of Egypt was taken off the internet at just after midnight local time on Friday. Of course there was no formal announcement as to why, but the move came hours before massive protests, which did take place despite the blackout.

Despite what I wrote in the first sentence, Mubarak's people almost certainly didn't actually cut any cables or pull any wires. But, as Gigaom pointed out, they likely took "a very careful and well-planned method to screen off internet addresses at every level, from users inside the country trying to get out and from the rest of the world trying to get in."

In addition to the net blackout, the CEO of Vodafone said that Egyptian authorities asked the company to "turn down the network totally," according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal reported that "all mobile operators in Egypt had been 'instructed to suspend services in parts of Egypt. Under Egyptian legislation, the authorities have the right to issue such an order and we are obliged to comply with it.'"

Despite the government's apparent efforts, tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets on Friday and remained in the streets after dark in defiance of a curfew order issued by President Mubarak.

Like a cracked sidewalk that lets the grass poke through, there will always be cracks in whatever information walls governments attempt to erect. Just as the "Great Firewall of China" can't isolate that country and attempts to silence WikiLeaks won't stop it from revealing secrets, the efforts of Egyptian President Mubarak or any other strong man will not stop people from organizing and communicating -- at least not for long.

Larry Magid is co-director and founder of

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