As we speak, Egypt is struggling with a near-total Internet and communications shut-off, and not just Egyptians are grappling with the implications. Can the flow of social media information to an entire country simply be cut? Apparently, yes. And that’s not just an Egyptian concern.
It’s very much an American concern, in that a US-based company seems to be the maker of the Internet off-switch. As Tim Karr of Free Press notes, the US company Narus was founded in 1997 by Israeli security experts. Based in Sunnyvale California, Narus has devised what business fans call a “social media sleuth.”
As boosters put it: “Narus is the leader in real-time traffic intelligence for the protection and management of large IP networks…. Used by the world’s service providers and governments, Narus has developed and patented state-of-the art algorithms to detect network anomalies and manage unwanted IP traffic. Additionally, Narus has the unique ability to precision target and fully reconstruct all types of IP traffic, including e-mail, Web mail and instant messages.”
They call it “total visibility.” Who’s buying? Well, Egypt Telecom, the state-owned communications company. Human rights abusers Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are also clients. During Iran’s protests in 2009, dissidents were tracked, imprisoned and in some cases executed thanks to similar technology.
And in that Narus is owned by Boeing, the nominally US-based company that has outsourced jobs all over the world—we know that the US State Department has been lobbying for them. Got to boost those exports!
So while Obama administration reps call for Internet freedom to be restored in Egypt, they may simultaneously be lobbying for the companies who shut down that freedom. Your tax dollars at work promoting the sale of social media off-switches to dictators, that would be bad enough.
But do we have any reason to believe the United States has not also bought this handy tool for itself? It makes you wonder what or who he’s kidding when Robert Gibbs talks about Internet freedom. Better not talk it up too loudly, though, before someone reaches for the kill switch.
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv and editor of At the Tea Party, out now from OR Books. GRITtv broadcasts weekdays on DISH Network and DIRECTv, on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter and be our friend on Facebook.