Can it happen here?

01 Feb 2011

In the wake of the Egyptian government cutting off the country from the Internet, people are wondering if the same could happen in their country. While that’s a good question, the more interesting question is “should” it happen.

In relation to New Zealand, it is possible for the government to cut our international Internet links. Maybe not 100% but enough that most Kiwis are practically isolated from the rest of the online world. At least for a while before Kiwi ingenuity and the global geek crowd jump in.


Source: Egypt leaves the Internet


The obvious way is physical or operational disruption of the Southern Cross cable though this would still leave satellite links open. Then there is the Egyptian way- leaning on Internet Service Providers. There are probably more ways.

(As an aside, so effective was the Egyptian cut off that one of the positive side effects is reduction of spam coming from Egyptian-based servers. And, to make a point but ironcially ineffectual, the US State Department tweeted its criticism.)

Preventing access to New Zealand websites from overseas is far more difficult and probably impossible. In any case, it is relatively easy to move content and hosting overseas.

Should this happen? Or, more accurately, are there circumstances that would justify such a move on part of the government?

I am unable to think of any combination of circumstances that makes this a sensible or even effective step. Extraordinary times could potentially require extraordinary responses but what could possibly justify or be achieved by cutting us off from the rest of the online world?

Any action on international links will probably be accompanied by disruption of communications within New Zealand.

All in all, an almost impossible scenario.

And no, the “Kill Switch” proposal in the USA is so removed from reality that it is not even worth thinking about.




Here's a further update on

Here's a further update on the Egyptian internet 'kill switch'

The Mechanics of Egypt's Internet Kill Switch -

Egypt's Internet was turned

Egypt's Internet was turned back on...

So, repressive political tactics can fail. Here's what Andy Greenberg thinks

'First, Egypt’s government faced the embarrassment of ignoring international pressure, including from its fairweather friends in the U.S. State Department, to restore its Internet.

Second, its economy suffered from its self-imposed Internet exile; Just two days ago, the country shut down its last Internet working service provider, Noor, which hosted many banks and multi-nationals including Coca-Cola and Egypt Air.

But most importantly, Egypt’s Internet blackout simply came too late to be effective. “Protesters were in the streets,” she says. “If they were afraid that the Internet would be used as a tool of mobilization, it had already played that role.”'

I'd add that this may be gathered as a laboratory finding across a surveillance-friendly world. Perhaps Egypt came late to the game, but their experience lends cynical weight to the rational for many existing schemes for continuous mass political surveillance. This tendency includes NZ and its intelligence relationship with the US.

I've just been watching a

I've just been watching a Media 7 item about the judge-only trial of the Urewera 8 and the denial of a jury trial.

The trial decision was made by a judge, and was initially suppressed by the judge making the decision.

The reasons for her decision cannot be reported.

It is conjectured that a jury could be sympathetic to the 8 people on trial.

Police evidence that was disallowed by the Solicitor General was leaked by the police who have not been brought to account.

Judge-only trials were introduced because of a Law Commission recommendation which failed to understand the possibility of this kind of judicial outcome.

The media have not been reporting this scandal.

This case from the start has a colonial political feel. It's based upon the actions of a colonial police, a colonial judiciary, and a colonial administration.

It turns the clock back on the way Maori can expect to be treated by the state.

And it has the hallmarks of secrecy, isolated colonial rule, panic and over reaction, and is the kind of outrage that challenges the general 'couldn't happen here' feeling that may be widely prevalent in NZ.

Looking at what's happening

Looking at what's happening in Egypt, it's not a bad laboratory for finding out how a technology-based ''kill switch can be put together to turn internet and mobile phones off in any country that run similar systems.

I'd say that there are additional questions about 'should' it be done.

The first question is about political and government panic and over reaction. I'd say yes, it might be done. The Canterbury Earthquake Act 2010 is a good example of recent frightening over reaction. And the response generally was very low key from the NZ population and in Parliament. I can imagine parties making a case in Parliament saying that 'it' 'should' be done and perhaps (with a strong likelihood) it 'would' be done.

The second question is to ask if we have taken a hard enough look at how the internet and other telecommunications are governed in New Zealand.

The 'kill switch' could be a metaphor for creeping control exerted by business and government that's far more effective than a technology-based 'kill switch'.

For example, we have a 'voluntary' internet censor situated in the NZ government's Department of Internal Affairs. I do remember somebody saying that there would be reason to use the technology to block websites that carried messages that might harm the NZ population. I can see how that might come to include messages about peaceful demonstration.

With this in mind, government, business and popular responses to the Wharfies and to Anti-apartheid are close enough in historical time for their relevance still to be understood. Economically, the world is on a knife edge and we've come to understand how compelling the instinct for self preservation is amongst the most powerful in the world.

The Canterbury Earthquake Act made me feel very concerned about my liberty. This fear is quite enough for me to hope that we all keep a very tight watch in New Zealand on our freedoms.

I asked about this on Twitter

I asked about this on Twitter and, skipping the more outlandish scifi plots (Skynet is waking up!), the only real example people could think of was where the Internet at self was at risk. i.e. some new and very destructive worm was spreading quickly.

But even if that was a good enough reason to disconnect there'd be no chance of spotting it in time to protect ourselves anyway.