Last year, a 75-year-old woman in the former Soviet republic of Georgia hacked through a cable with a shovel while scavenging for scrap metal, inadvertently crippling Internet service in that country and in neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan. Accidents like this have happened on a smaller scale in the U.S., and the loss of Internet connectivity in the wake of Superstorm Sandy had a paralyzing effect on businesses in New York and elsewhere. But, as Rachel Maddow pointed in the opening segment of her November 29 broadcast, governments are realizing that shutting off the Internet on purpose is a powerful political weapon.
The dictators who fell in the Arab Spring uprisings may have realized too late just how potent the Internet is as a means of mobilizing popular sentiment. This lesson has not been lost on Syria, which yesterday unplugged its Internet completely, effectively isolating its citizens, along with the rebel opposition, from the rest of the world. If held to the standards proposed by International Telecomunications Union General Secretary Hamadoun Touré in his talk at Techonomy 2011, this action by the Syrian government violates an international human right. In his recent article for Techonomy, Gabriel Mizrahi argued that North Korea’s iron grip on Internet access neutralizes popular resistance before it can take seed. Can civic movements, let alone revolutions, survive without the Internet in our networked age? And what are the responsibility of governments and international bodies to enforce global network neutrality and Internet for all?