Default Free: Craig Labovitz

Middle East Internet Scorecard



[A PDF version of this analysis is also available.]

The success of the Tunisian and Egyptian protest movements inspired demonstrations throughout the Middle East last week, including large-scale social media coordinated protests in Libya, Iran, Bahrain, Algeria, Jordan and Yemen. In several of countries, governments responded to the calls for reform with arrests and violent suppression of public demonstrations. Increasingly, several Middle Eastern governments also may be disrupting phone and Internet communication to contain the spread of unrest.

These new Internet filtering efforts come a week after Egypt returned to the Internet following an abortive effort to block protests demanding the then president, Hosni Mubarak, resign. While other countries, including Iran and Myanmar, disrupted telecommunication following social unrest in the past, the Egyptian outage represents a new Internet milestone -- the first highly connected, telecommunication dependent society to intentionally disconnect from the Internet [1,2].

This analysis uses real-time data from the 110 Internet providers around the world to identify possible ongoing Internet traffic manipulation in Middle East countries with active protest movements. More details on our data collection infrastructure and methodology are available in our recent academic paper [3].

Overall, our data shows pronounced changes in Internet traffic levels in two Middle East countries last week: Bahrain and Libya. While network failures and other exogenous events may play a role in decreased traffic volumes, we observe the changes in Bahrain and Libya are temporally coincident with the onset of recent protests. Several Bahrain telecommunication companies blamed the slowdown on "overloaded circuits" and extremely high usage [4].

We note that many countries in the region maintain some level of permanent Internet limits, including blocks on dissident web sites, social media and adult content [5]. The traffic volumes graphed on the following page represent possible traffic manipulation beyond normal filtering practices.

In the below chart, we show the "normal" traffic in and out of each country averaged over the proceeding three weeks in green. The dotted red line in each graph shows the traffic over the last seven days. Orange shaded areas indicated periods of statistically abnormal traffic either last week or the week of February 14. Abnormal traffic volumes may network failures or periods of intentional traffic manipulation. Due to the near complete block of all Internet traffic (January 27 -- February 2), the Egyptian graph shows orange for most of last week as traffic levels climbed to normal. Yemen Internet traffic also exhibited brief, though unusual dips, during the prior week (February 7-11) and also includes an orange period.

While the Internet has proven a powerful tool for rallying social and political change, so too have governments recognized their regulatory and technical capability to disrupt communications. The next few weeks will likely prove a major contest between the continued evolution of the Internet as a vehicle for political change and authoritarian governments? continued assertion of control.



End Notes



[1] Craig Labovitz, "Egypt Loses the Internet". Arbor Networks blog post. Available at http://asert.arbornetworks.com/2011/01/egypt-loses-the-internet. January 28, 2011.

[2] James Cowie, "Egypt Leaves the Internet". Renesys blog post. Available at http://www.renesys.com/blog/2011/01/egypt-leaves-the-internet.shtml. January 27, 2011.

[3] Craig Labovitz, Scott Iekel-Johnson, Danny McPherson, Jon Oberheide, and Farnam Jahanian, "Internet Inter-Domain Traffic". Proceedings of ACM SIGCOMM 2010, New Delhi. August, 2010.

[4] Christopher Rhoads, "Technology Poses Big Test for Regimes". Wall Street Journal. February 12, 2011.

[5] OpenNet Initiative. Web site at http://opennet.net.


   

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