During the ongoing unrest in the Middle East, Internet activists played an enormous role in advocating for Tunisian and Egyptian protestors. When the Egyptian government switched off Internet access across the country, Internet users in the US and abroad began to wonder if their governments possessed the power to shut down the web in a similar fashion.
This triggers two crucial questions: First, can any one government completely restrict Internet access? Secondly, should a government do so? In the case of authoritarian regimes like the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (you know, the ones with all those nukes), it's not difficult to imagine that the ruling powers could shut down Internet access. After all, in most authoritarian countries access to the web is already tightly restricted, and heavily monitored. It's also not difficult to picture these governments using this ability,
But what about the Internet in democratic countries, especially wealthy regions with diverse populations? We know that the US has the ability to restore connectivity to foreign populations, effectively disarming even the most stringent kill switch. We also know President Obama recently stated that access to social networking should be considered a universal value, up there with freedom of speech. Check it out in the video below:
One last thing: This isn't a series of hypothetical questions. Congress has been considering legislation that would allow the US government to shut down the Internet. Although it would be tremendously expensive, our government could probably pull it off. But should we? That's the ten thousand dollar question of the day.