Censorship of social media proposed in the UK (updated)

When people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. We are working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality. Free flow of information can be used for good, but it can also be used for ill.

David Cameron, British Prime Minister calling for censorship of social media, which he claims helped foster the riots in the UK.

This is so wrong-headed it is crazy. Free speech is free speech, whether it is online or not. Represive regimes have been brought down by social media. See, e.g., Egypt. So when a democratic government doesn’t like the results, it attempts to ban free speech.  Surely this will be the approach cited by dictators when they choose to shut down social media and the Internet generally.

And yes, free speech has consequences. But any rationale person believes that the costs of free speech are greatly outweighed by the benefits.

This is nothing like yelling fire in a crowded theater, and if one believe it is, then existing laws are certainly sufficient to handle the problem.

Update: More from the BBC.


Hosni Mubarak uses lots of words to deliver a single message: No.

That is, “No, I will not go.”

How sad. And, as David Remnick so accurately note, how dangerous.

The delusions of dictators are never more poignant—or more dangerous—than when they are in their death throes. To watch Hosni Mubarak today in his late-night speech in Cairo, as he used every means of rhetorical deflection to delay his inevitable end, was to watch a man so deluded, so deaf to the demands of history, that he was incapable of hearing an entire people screaming in his ear. And it is almost always that way: the dictator, coddled in his isolation, surrounded by satraps and servants, immersed in his own sense of essential-ness, is the last to know. The Finns used to talk of the president-for-life Urho Kekkonen beginning his speeches, “If I die…” The denial of the end is a denial of death. The dictator, even if he comes to pronounce himself “sick” of being one, as Mubarak did a few days ago, cannot conceive an alternative. Which is why the most important moment for a nascent democracy is not necessarily the fall of the autocrat or its first democratic election but its first eventless, democratic transition.

Political quote of the day

There is a reason why a lot of diplomacy is conducted in secret. There are good reasons for there to be confidentiality in some of those communications. And I think President Mubarak needs to be treated as he deserved over the years, because he has been a good friend.

Dick Cheney, former Vice President of the United States.

Tech quote of the day

This didn’t have anything to do with Twitter and Facebook. This had to do with people’s dignity, people’s pride. People are not able to feed their families.

Richard Engel, reporter in Egypt, debunking the claim that the revolution in Egypt is driven by technology.

Egypt’s Vice President

Egyptian Intelligence Director Omar Suleiman a...
Omar Suleiman via Wikipedia

Omar Suleiman is the recently appointed Vice President of Egypt. And there is some support from the United States to have him assume the Presidency on an interim basis should Mubarak eventually resign.

But how big an improvement for the people of Egypt is Suleiman? Since 1993 he has been the head of Egypt’s powerful and feared intelligence agency. And in that role he worked with our CIA in sending suspected terrorists to Egypt for torture.

Suleiman graduated from Egypt’s prestigious Military Academy but also received training in the Soviet Union. Under his guidance, Egyptian intelligence has worked hand-in-glove with the CIA’s counterterrorism programs, most notably in the 2003 rendition of an al-Qaeda suspect known as Abu Omar from Italy.

And here is another outline of his actions.

In some instances, Suleiman has personally overseen the torture of detainees. A memoir by Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib told how he came face to face with Suleiman after he was captured by Pakistani security forces and later rendered to Egypt by the CIA. Habib claims to have been zapped with high-voltage electricity, immersed in water up to his nostrils, beaten, had his fingers broken and hung from metal hooks.
In another, disastrous example, Suleiman was the Egyptian point man for the CIA’s rendition of Ibn al-Shaikh al-Libi. Al-Libi told his U.S. torturers what they wanted to hear—that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, even though there wasn’t one.
Al-Libi’s lies did not prevent him from winding up in an Egyptian prison, where he was kept in a box less than two feet square for 17 hours a day. When let out, he was subjected to beatings, causing him to tell more lies to get his captors to stop torturing him.

You can read his torture CV here.

And read this article from today’s New York Times describing what is happening right now.

Whatta guy.  Sounds like the perfect man to transition Egypt to democracy.

Political quote of the day

We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protesters, and we call on the Egyptian Goverment to do everything in its power to restrain the security forces. At the same time, protesters should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully.

— United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

The day the Internet died (updated x2)

The Internet died in one country yesterday. Facing a huge and violent uprising, the government of Egypt substantially shut down the Internet through the country.

After blocking Twitter on Tuesday and, intermittently, Facebook and Google on Wednesday, the Egyptian government has upped the ante, throwing a complete Internet access block across the whole of the country. Additionally blocked are Blackberry service and SMS.

Reports are pouring in, many to Twitterers via landline, that the country has been “cut off” and is now a “black hole.”

Reports from Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere in the country indicate the block is wholesale and countrywide.

The extent of this shutdown may be a first.

Update: This attack on civil liberties in Egypt highlights a risk here in the United States. A proposal is currently under consideration in the Senate that would give the President a “kill switch” to such down the Internet during a crisis. Giving this kind of control over the free flow of information to the government would be a serious mistake.

Update 2:

This is what Egypt's cutoff from the Net looks like: http://j.mp/egypt_arbor (HT @labovit - it's from a global set of traffic points)
Danny O'Brien