Do Our Politicians Have too Much Power Over Web 2.0

In 2011 web 2.0 has been seen authoritarian governments, such as the now disposed of Hosni Mubarak’s government in Egypt to shutdown the Internet, which has raised questions about whether our politicians have too much power over the web. Can governments in other countries like the UK pull the plug and disconnect? This act by Egypt has been repeated in other parts of the Middle East where uprisings have occurred; on 19 February Libya went offline, while Bahrain reduced web traffic flow was reported between 14 and 16 February. The authorities in Egypt discovered the net kill-switch can be circumvented as during the shutdown telephone lines remained active and tech-savvy protesters were able to set up information networks using dial-up modems.

In Britain there are two pieces of legislation that give the Government power to order the suspension of the internet. The Civil Contingencies Act and the 2003 Communications Act can both be used to suspend web 2.0 services, by ordering ISPs to shut down their operations or by closing internet exchanges. Under the Communications Act, the switch-flicking would be done by the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. Though the chances of this happening are slim, as these powers can only be used in times of emergency to protect the public and safeguard national security. In addition to ordering the nation's main ISPs to cease operation, officials can also close the main internet exchanges such as Linx (the London Internet Exchange) which handles 80 per cent of the UK’s internet traffic.

In the US lawmakers are drafting more wide-ranging legislation than British law and the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act will give President Barack Obama the ability to declare a state of cyber-security emergency. He would have full control over web 2.0’s internet networks. The President could isolate the country and its critical national infrastructure from attack for a period of 120 days.

While Egypt was relatively simple to switch off, the UK, with its advanced web 2.0 digital infrastructures is more complex, with its more than 3,000 independent ISPs, several national mobile operators and at least 10 undersea high-speed fibre cables linking it to Europe, Africa and the Americas. Plus, most mobile broadband operators have diverse routing, with some routing traffic overseas.

The problem comes down to the very nature of web 2.0 in developed countries. It is a mesh of networks. It transcends borders and has no definable beginning or end. As a result of this structure it is almost impossible to isolate all the connections; so in conclusion a complete shutdown is highly unlikely.

Photo Credit: soycamo