Regarding “Egypt Leaders Found ‘Off’ Switch for Internet“:
Dear James and John,
Interesting article. However, the following paragraph and much of what follows is incomplete or inaccurate.
Because the Internet’s legendary robustness and ability to route around blockages are part of its basic design, even the world’s most renowned network and telecommunications engineers have been perplexed that the Mubarak government succeeded in pulling the maneuver off.
The fundamental “building block” of the Internet is the Autonomous System (AS). Each AS is uniquely identified by an Autonomous System Number (ASN). In short, the internet is comprised of independent networks which voluntarily connect to each other by following the internet standards documents, known as RFC’s (“Request for Comments”).
How do systems know how to route traffic to other systems?
Today this is accomplished via BGP (Border Gateway Protocol).
Generally speaking, each AS broadcast routes via BGP over port 179.
What happened in Egypt is that, on January 28, most Egyptian AS stopped broadcasting routes via BGP, and thus became suddenly unreachable by almost all other internet AS. This was not a mystery to experts or even run-of-the-mill system engineers. It was immediately understood and documented.
How is it you did not talk to a single person with a clue as to what they were talking about? Or, did they know and simply not want to tell you so other governments would not exploit the same technique? In any event, had you googled “Egypt BGP” the answer would have become blindingly obvious to you instead of a “mystery.” The BGPmon post was referenced by at least 105 other blogs in the days following Jan 28, so the information was, and is, widely known and available.
Note: Article was being revised, and retitled, by nytimes as I wrote this letter.
Copyright © 2011 Henry Edward Hardy
This is taken from a response I made on a mailing list discussing technical means of implementing “filtering”, or computerized censorship, of children’s access to the internet in a school environment.
I’m a bit disturbed when I hear people using the euphemism “filtering” for automated, computerized censorship. I understand there may be legislative or political mandates. However, we should never talk about this as though it is a good or desirable or acceptable thing.
I realize this may be seen as off topic from the merely technical discussion of how to implement computerized censorship, but when we calmly discuss technicalities of something which is obviously wrong without questioning it, then the discussion needs to be aired.
“Filtering” is what you do to the water in a fish tank. “Censorship” is when a state or quasi-state agency proscribes and limits access to certain classes of written material.
Here are a few tests we should apply to any such proposed system.
Does it allow access to information about “Romeo and Juliet”? (Underage sex, gang-oriented violence, suicide, murder)
Does it allow access to “Huckleberry Finn” (Slavery, frequent use of the word “nigger”)
Does it allow access to “The Catcher in the Rye” (Use of “fuck”, blasphemy, drinking, smoking, lying, promiscuity, implied pederasty)
Does it allow access to “Heather has Two Mommies” (Lesbianism)
Does it allow access to “Our Bodies, Ourselves” (Information about human health, sex and sexuality)
Does it allow access to “Slaughterhouse-Five” (Genocide, strategic bombing, sex)
Does it allow access to “Of Mice and Men” (Retardation, sex, rape, murder)
Does it allow access to “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Sexual roles, patriarchy, racism, and theocracy)
Does it allow access to “The Kite Runner” (Homosexuality, rape)
Does it allow access to “His Dark Materials” (Anti-state, anti-catholic, magic and witchcraft)
Does it allow access to “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (Alchemy, murder, debauchery)
Does it allow access to “1984″ (Torture, illicit sex, anti-state and anti-party politics)
Does it allow access to “Canterbury Tales” (Promiscuity, anti-clericalism)
Does it allow access to “The Decameron” (Anti-state, anti-Catholic and general ribaldry, such as the Third Day, Tenth Story, “How to put the Devil in Hell”)
And in terms of websites particularly,
Sites which criticize the ruling party or government.
Sites which criticize or parody the predominant religion.
Blogs, in general
And classes of internet services such as
Peer-to-peer file-sharing services such as Bittorrent, EMule, Gnutella
In general, censorship is bad and morally wrong; and automated, computerized censorship especially so; and we should never refer to it by a purpose-made and innocuous-sounding term like “filtering” or treat it as though it is morally or pedagogically acceptable.
What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books.
–Sigmund Freud, 1933
Copyright © 2009 Henry Edward Hardy