Support for the disconnected of Egypt

Governments are the single point of failure for the internet and thus for the public’s tool of empowerment. We are seeing that in Egypt today as the government ordered telcos to shut down the internet as a whole in the country. We have seen that in the past when Libya shut down .ly domains it did not like. Our internet is too fragile.

I took some solace from Clay Shirky reminded me today that by the time governments shut down the internet or its services, it has so far been too late: the protestors are organized. I tweeted that and someone responded that the lesson for tyrants is: take care of the internet first, the protestors second.

The chicken-egg debate about the credit the tools of the internet and publicness deserve in Iran and Tunisia and now Egypt is rather pointless, even offensive. These tools were stolen from the public by a government trying to forbid them because they are a means of shifting power. They do not belong to government. They belong to the public, who are using them to claim their rights as the public.

I am in Davos where, in 1996, John Perry Barlow wrote his Declaration of Independence for Cyberspace. It becomes only more relevant:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.

At a session here at Davos on governance in a new-media world (their words) we discussed the inevitability of greater transparency through these new tools and the need for principles to govern those who would govern it. (I’ll write more about that later.) This is why I am working on my own suggestions for such a set. (Here is the most recent version of a constantly changing list; I no longer call it a Bill of Rights but instead a set of principles and, again, I ask for your help in framing the discussion).

The first and most fundamental principle is that we have a right to connect. Egypt violated that principle — that human right — today.

We, the people of the internet, the citizens of this eighth continent (as the CTO of the U.S. VA calls our newly discovered world) must stand in support of the disconnected of Egypt. I don’t have the eloquence, passion, and credentials of Barlow, so I will not pretend to be able to respond to the call made by @jwildeboer proposed on Twitter just now: “Will Netizens at #WEF publish support statement for #Egypt? Or are they too busy talking to Tycoons? cc @JeffJarvis”

Yes, such a statement of support should come from each of us, particularly those of us here in Davos. This is mine. Yours?

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  • Who exactly are the disconnected of Egypt? The Muslim Brotherhood?

  • casimir

    I’m following the tweets of the Swedish foregin minister @carlbildt and he is very worried about the situation in Egypt and he opposes the taking down social media there.

  • Stan Hogan

    An angry blog post, witty but biting tweet or poignant story comment should show them we mean business.

    And get us back to the belief we have rights in this not-so-world. And they can’t be taken away, ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

  • Hi Jeff,
    I think we are seeing the beginnings of the demise of the nation-state. The powerful are resisting the diminution of their authority and control of the public polity. The disproportionate response to WikiLeaks by the US govt to strong arm paypal, Amazon, Visa and MasterCard to try and thwart WL has shown them to be the plutocrats we know and love. The USA is a democracy in name only – you have the best government money can buy. But I digress.
    Their response has resulted in the ‘dandelion effect’ where by swiping at WikiLeaks they have seeded dissent far and wide. There are now over two thousand mirrors of the WL servers and now OpenLeaks has launched the genie isn’t only out of the bottle it’s inevitable that governments everywhere will be brought to account.
    We need to build a robust distributed Internet (not the schminternet!) bypassing Telcos where possible. The openDNS and other distributed data models that have proven effective for P2P could be used to bypass such simple measures where govts and corporate lackeys conspire against their people and “customers”.
    I recommend you read the recent talk by futurist Mark Pesce (coinventor of VRML) called Smoke Signals that he delivered to LCA2011 in Brisbane Australia Friday January 28th 2011. See for the text. The article sans links has been reposted by ComputerWorld.

    Enjoy WWGD and your TWiG podcast – keep fighting the good fight.
    Solidarity Siblings!

  • On a lighter note you could have just said that Goverments are a single point of failure… EPICGOVFAIL!

  • I’m following the tweets of the Swedish foregin minister @carlbildt and he is very worried about the situation in Egypt and he opposes the taking down social media there.

  • Gonx

    Canada is capping the internet traffic for subscribers.
    Soon, internet will become either very expensive in liberal countires so ISP can have good EBITDA or blocked / censored by governments in non democratic countries.
    Nice future…

  • Andy Freeman

    Remind me – why is an “internet kill switch” under US govt control a good idea?

  • Bart Preecs

    Jeff, I am as much in favor of Internet freedom and free “press” as anyone can be . . . but I would encourage you to take a second look at “Who Controls the Internet” by Tim Wu and Jack Goldsmith before quoting John Perry Barlow and his Declaration of Cyber-independence again.

    The tension between the powers of new media and the powers of existing governments is far more complicated than Barlow’s claim that governments are irrelevant.

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