Sudan Internet Shutdown: It's Not Just Sudan Screwing With the Web


Most people receiving the news about the Sudanese government cutting off Internet access across the country would be seriously troubled. Should governments be able to do this? In an increasingly free speech world, the answer is bound to be no. But this debate doesn't end at governmental ability to suppress access, but how governments are able to use the internet to crack down on dissent in general. The U.S. is not immune to this behavior.

The Sudanese government's action marks the "largest government-directed Internet blackout since Egypt in January 2011" according to the Internet security corporation, Renesys. The September 25 outage is in response to growing protests over fuel subsidies. Internet social media has been a highly effective means of coordinating social protest, as emphasized by the Arab Spring.

This sort of organized protest has prompted regimes to engage in similar shutdown measures, most notably Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt and Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria. The work of the Sudanese government is not surprising for abusive governments.

While the shutdown is a problem in Sudan, it's only part of a larger problem with government internet intervention. Access is critical, but so are content and privacy issues. Much larger and powerful countries are guilty of the latter issues.

Blocking content is another form of government internet suppression. China, a country with internet access, has many forms of content blocked. Traveling there this past summer, I had the experience of trying to Google YouTube. Rather than YouTube being blocked, there was no indication that YouTube actually exists.

Western nations must have it so much better, right? Well, the NSA and UK equivalent GCHQ have engaged in their own form of suppression, cracking your privacy and security. On September 15, the Guardian broke that the NSA and GCHQ have been unlocking encryption protocols to access, banking, and medical records. The U.S. also engages in financial deals with companies to insert weaknesses into products and services which can "undermine the fabric of the internet." This is all on top of the Edward Snowden leaks, which revealed that the NSA actively spied on Americans using email and other transactions on the Internet.

Yes, there should be outrage over the Internet outage in Sudan. But we all need to realize that this is just one facet of government internet suppression. Sudan is just another example.