Monday, July 27, 2009

You Can't Easily Turn the Internet Off

Recent news reports from various parts of the world have spotlighted the ubiquitous Internet and how it is shaping the fabric of society. Its impact is reminiscent of the old song “How You Gonna Keep’em Down On the Farm after They’ve Seen Paree.” In reality, the Internet is much more powerful than any communications tool that has gone before it. Governments, especially those that are closed and restrictive, are finding this out the hard way.

Other communications technologies were much easier to control by those in power. Radio and TV programming can be censored and even rogue stations can be jammed if the people in charge disagree with the message.

Recently in Iran, during the short-lived but pervasive unrest, the Internet was used by dissidents to communicate both internally with the protesters as well as to release to the world what was happening in the streets even after traditional media were barred from reporting.

The dilemma facing the Iranian government was how to control the Internet. In days gone by, you could just shut it down, pull the plug. That is no longer a viable option. The same Internet that allows the free flow of information and the same Internet that makes embarrassing YouTube videos available to the world, also is the backbone for commerce, banking, the power grid, the airline system and most anything else that a modern society relies on. To have the water pump and the sanitation system operate in most case requires the control and interconnection provide by the Internet.

The vital role of the Internet in modern society is not lost on those who would seek to do us harm. Just a week or so ago, cyber attacks were launched against the US and South Korea seeking to slow down or even to cripple the Internet and the computer connected to it. While the government and academia are hard at work to prevent such a catastrophic event, right now we have a lot of eggs in this basket and much more than a big omelet will result if that basket ever breaks.

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