Monday, December 7, 2009

How to Shut Down the Internet - or - Dealing With Troublesome Ideas, and the People who Spread Them

Turns out, it's fairly easy to block people from the Internet. In some parts of the world. I ran into an article that describes how Iran was able to "shut down the 'net" today. Not the whole Internet, of course: just the parts in areas where the Ayatollahs' enforcers were doing something that involved tear gas and bullets.

Just exactly what happened isn't entirely clear: but Iran's leaders didn't let another "Neda" video get out.
"How to Shut Down the 'Net: A Guide for Repressive Regimes"
FOXNews (December 7, 2009)

" Facing student protests ahead of today's National Students Day — the anniversary of three student deaths in Tehran in 1953 — the state-owned Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI) slowed or blocked completely access to the Internet for most of the state

"The Internet may be a worldwide superhighway, but it's all to easy to shut it down. Governments aiming to squelch free speech in don't even have to work hard to do so: It's all too easy to restrict the Internet and keep their people in the dark...."
The rest of the article is, I think, worth reading. But then, I'm one of those people who read articles in The New York Times, Reuters, Xinhua News Agency, and even - FOXNews.

There are quite a few ways of reacting to the article, including (adapted from another blog's post):
  1. Denial:
    • The article is on the FOXNews website, so it must be a lie
      • And probably some kind of conspiracy
  2. Defense:
    • Iran's leaders, as non-Western rulers with citizens who aren't unswervingly loyal
      • Has very understandable reasons for stamping out criticism
      • Shouldn't be judged harshly
        • If at all
      • Is simply reacting to Yankee imperialism
        • Which, in some circles, excuses almost anything
  3. Resignation:
    • That's just the way things are
      • And it's never going to change
  4. Interest:
    • So that's how it's done
Considering the myriad ways of the human mind, I'm sure there are many more alternative reactions.

Me? I go with the fourth alternative. I don't approve of the Ayatollah's government: even though it is a democracy, in the sense that they have elections: and replaced a monarchy. I grew up in America, a republic with a 'strong democratic tradition,' and think that a democracy is a workable form of government. But I don't think it's the only way that a country can be run - or even the only 'good' way to manage national affairs. (November 15, 2009, December 29, 2008) But I'm getting off-topic.

The point is, because of the way information technology is set up in Iran, and the sort of power the government has - legally - it's fairly easy for the Ayatollahs to black out parts of their domain.

Quite a few countries don't have the bewildering array of Internet Service Providers that America has - which simplifies the process of choosing an ISP - and which really helps the government, when the Supreme Leader, or whatever the big kahuna's title is, wants to lean on the local and regional ISPs.

From a technical point of view, filtering unwanted information is a fairly straightforward affair.
"...Keyword blocking prevents people from searching for such obviously dangerous words as 'freedom' and 'democracy.' Custom black lists also server to block content that specifically rankles the government. Is it unions, student protests or something else?

"When the government catches someone searching for these terms, they can automatically turn off their access for a period of time. "If a user happens upon a site or search result that has been flagged unacceptable, that user’s connection to the Internet can be dropped altogether for a specified period of time," notes's Lynn...."
The article is, I think, a fairly quick way to learn just how easy it is to control what people are allowed to read and see. Information technology like the Internet makes it possible for people around the world to communicate - but only as long as national leaders are willing to put up with the occasional embarrassments that go along with that sort of transparency.

I think that America enjoys a remarkable degree of freedom, and I'm one of those people who's willing to put up with the messy side of open communication. I don't like it, but that - again - is another topic. (See "Frosty the Pornman....," in another blog)

A history of (relatively) free exchange of ideas is no guarantee that Americans will be allowed to express themselves in the future. It hasn't been all that long, since a strange alliance of very serious people tried to "protect" Americans from the Internet. (March 9, 2008) Yes, it can happen here - and almost did.

Related posts: In the news: Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.


Brian H. Gill said...

Everybody else,

ginomballance's comment, which started with "巨乳,成人論壇,嘟嘟貼圖區,美女寫真,ut聊天室,同志聊天室,色情小遊戲,貼圖區,哈比寬頻成人,....", is in Chinese. It's a series of phrases that start with (in translation) "Boobs, Adult Forum, toot map area, beautiful photo, ut chat room gay chat room, erotic games, map area, Habib broadband adult, ...."

You get the picture.

The comment almost, sort of, relates to this post, since it's got the terms 'chat room' and 'broadband' in it - and the post's topic involves Internet technology.

Still, it's spam: and it's gone.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.