Key Questions Remain after Syria’s Internet Goes Black
Nearly two years ago, Secretary Clinton made the best case for robust pursuit of “One Internet” when she laid out the stakes:
“[U]ltimately, this issue isn’t just about information freedom; it is about what kind of world we want and what kind of world we will inhabit. It’s about whether we live on a planet with one internet, one global community, and a common body of knowledge that benefits and unites us all, or a fragmented planet in which access to information and opportunity is dependent on where you live and the whims of censors.”
Today’s internet blackout in Syria makes it all too clear that netizens in Syria still live at the whims of the government that many of them have been fighting for over a year and we are still far from achieving one internet that unites us all. Details are still emerging roughly ten hours into the blackout. It is not even certain who is responsible for it. Government officials are claiming that “terrorists” (read: rebel forces) targeted the infrastructure, but the general consensus is that the Assad regime is to blame, given that they effectively own all of the internet infrastructure in the country. Key questions are already being posed: Who flipped the kill switch? As was the case in Egypt last year, are private companies complicit in the blackout? This far into a brutal conflict, why cut service now?Is it simply to undermine communications between rebels, or, worse, a precautionary measure before commencing a bloody crackdown that would shock the world? How will Syrian netizens react? How will the rest of the world react? Despite all that we do not know, we do know that Syria’s internet is completely black—no Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Skype, internal or external news outlets, email, or any other internet service. We know, thanks to the Arab Spring, just how important those services are to citizens fighting for their individual and collective rights. We know that attacks on the Internet are always a risk when states own the Internet infrastructure. And today we know that Secretary Clinton’s “One Internet” vision will sometimes seem unattainable, but it is now more important than ever to achieve it.