2011-01-30 Arab Totalitarians want Tech for National Security Emergencies

Information technology as development has been central to Egyptian economic policy since 1999, when Mubarak appointed Ahmed Nazif, the recently resigned Prime Minister, to a newly created post, Minister for Communications and Information Technology.

As the former Minister of CIT, Nazif established Egypt's free internet connectivity plan and improved public access to computers (Source: Wikipedia). But, as Prime Minister, Nazif extended the application of Egypt's thirty-year old state of emergency law. The Overseas Press Club of America observes that notwithstanding remarks made by the regime that the law is "only to be invoked during proclamations of emergency," the fact is "authorities continue to use the emergency law to detain dissidents, including journalists and respected bloggers.”

Dr. Tarek Kamel was elevated to his current post as Egypt's Minister of CIT when Nazif, his former boss was appointed PM. Nazif in turn picked Kamel to replace him. (Source:Khaled Fatta)

Kamel, like Nazif believes that social and economic channels exists primarily to reinforce regime power. As a techno-bureaucrat, Kamel lobbies the Internet as the "backbone of social-economic development," but only when it pacifies public dissent and 'backbones' the regime. When public dissent threatens the status quo, the Internet gets turned off.

Since 2004, Kamel (also Chairman of the Board of Egypt’s National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority) - has acted as Chairman of the Executive Bureau of the Arab Telecommunications and Information Council of Ministers, a specialized ministerial council under the Arab League. Egypt is also currently vice president of the Council.

Yemen News Agency reports that the Arab Telecom and Info Council was due to meet in Beirut this Wednesday - the same day that Egypt left the Internet - in what Renesys described as a sequence of Egypt's Internet service providers - Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt, Etisalat Misr - "getting phone calls, one at a time, telling them to take themselves off the air."

The Ministers' Beirut meeting was scheduled to occur in parallel to the Arab Telecom & Internet Forum 2011. According to the event Web site, the forum was cancelled "[d]ue to the unfortunate incidents that Lebanon is witnessing" - referring to violent protest against Hezbollah's nomination of a candidate for the post of prime minister.

Hosted by inter-governmental organizations, sponsored by multi-national telecom and defense firms, and "in the presence" of government ministries, the focus of this year was to be "the importance of the role of IT during emergencies and crises." (Source: Al-Iktissad PR)

Thuraya Telecom Co, a satellite telecom firm, had scheduled a dedicated session on the role of information and communication technology (ICT) solutions in managing national security. (Source: Maritime Executive)

Thuraya satellites cover 140 countries and can reach remote land and sea areas unreachable by terrestrial networks. They provides 'NettedComms' or secured autonomous networks for government segments - that is, "satellite-based ‘solutions’ that integrate different telecom technologies into a single closed user group, enabling users with different telecom devices to communicate effectively during security and disaster recover activities.”

The overlap between high tech and defense is driven by myriad forces: the economics of the global marketplace; the instinct for self-preservation and for power by business, bureaucrat, and tyrant alike; and even by the social instincts and amusements of consumers.

Dr. Amr Badawi, Executive President of Egypt's National Telecommunication Regulator Authority spent nine years at GTE & General Dynamics before he became a Senior Advisor to the Minister of Communications and Information Technology. He represents a common transfer of human and intellectual capital across sectors. In a like matter to, military surveillance, targeting, and weapons systems, use technology developed primarily for motion pictures and entertainment software - or the consumer electronics market.

The U.S. government employs Panavision's 300x compound zoom lens for military surveillance. According to an interview that I conducted with the senior vice president of worldwide sales at Panavision in 2006, federal contracts with the U.S. State Department are the fastest growing segment of Panavision's business.

More provocative is how Hollywood and video games drive the development of high-speed, high-resolution digital image capture, management, transmission, and display that have implications for fields where these advanced technological applications would be economically unviable to develop on their own.

Entertainment software has led to faster introduction and deployment of processors, broadband networks, and high definition disks like HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. But, "IBM places value on chips made for entertainment software that goes beyond revenue and profits," says Dr. John Kelly, senior vice president and group executive for IBM Technology Group: "These chips help drive technology in other areas."

The Mercury Computer's CELL based blade server, for example, can handle the requirements of sonar and radar computation for military or scientific applications, because of its ability to process real time data streams. "The Cell BE processor was originally designed for the volume home entertainment market," says Craig Lund, chief technology officer of Mercury Computer Systems, "but its architecture of nine heterogeneous on-chip cores is well-suited to the type of distributed, real-time processing that will power tomorrow's digital battlefield."

The U.S. military hegemony is based on the ability of the U.S. Navy to dominate the world's oceans - due partially to the superior numbers and technology of U.S. naval vessels, which are augmented significantly by U.S. dominance in space-based reconnaissance technology, and made possible by entertainment software consumers and movie goers world-wide.

Neither technology, nor the instincts towards self-preservation, power, or social amusement are good or evil in themselves. They arise naturally in every man and nation. The causes of faction cannot be removed, writes Madison in Federalist 10. The only relief "sought is in the means of controlling its effects." The Federalist authors control effect through structuring institutions that are capable of decentralizing the concentration of power in the hands of dominant factions or interests.

The organs of communication and concealment are the organs of power. Their capacity is a means to power. Technological authoritarianism, the centralized control of digital organs of free association and expression, is a recipe for tyranny. The Egyptian model is a dangerous because the regime has centralized power over the vital organs and spheres of society. The precedent set Thursday is made nightmarish by the compliance of the Egyptian ISPs: Telecom Egypt, Raya, Link Egypt, Etisalat Misr, and Internet Egypt . But, the development is not surprising. Its institutional model relies on enlightened statesmanship. And, as history demonstrates, enlightened statesmen are not always at the helm.

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