Yesterday, the OpenNet Initiative released an excellent report on the recent Internet shutdown in Burma, entitled "Pulling the Plug: A Technical Review of the Internet Shutdown in Burma." Besides the eye-popping technical analysis ONI was able to carry out in a matter of weeks, the report contains a great overview of the dramatic events of late September and early October 2007, including the role that citizen journalists and bloggers played in getting information about the crackdown out to the international community. As for the government's response, the report explains that the government imposed a total Internet outage from September 29 to October 4, followed by a period of regulated outages all day except during the period between 22:00 and 4:00 (Burmese time) from October 4 through October 12. Wow.
The authors of the report put the Internet shutdown into historical/technological perspective and nicely capture the causal relationship between increased citizen journalist activity and this drastic move:
One of the mainstays of the Burmese government's strategy for restricting information flows in Burma had been Internet filtering, which prevented access to information offered up outside the country. Websites and blogs are easily blocked as they tend to occupy a distinct, persistent location on the Internet. In this case, however, the junta attempted to sever the bi-directional flow of information so that the picture of reality for people on both sides of the Burmese border would remain distorted. As a result, the targets for censorship expanded exponentially from Web sites that are critical of the junta to any individual with a camera or cell phone and direct or indirect access to the Internet. Moreover, the raw footage coming out of Burma provided a striking narrative of the unfolding events, including some 'unforgivable and unforgettable photos,' from views of cheering protesters and protective human chains to the fatal shooting of a Japanese journalist caught on film. This was citizen media in its simplest form, utilizing the cheap sensors and network that have helped to spawn the information revolution without the need for additional editorial input or elaborate post-production work. This distributed form of reporting is, in practical terms, impossible to block completely, prompting the extreme measures taken by the Burmese regime.
Great stuff - but chilling too, to the extent that it gives a glimpse of how other repressive regimes might respond to the viral quality of citizen journalism in the future.
Reading the entire report is well worth your time.
(Note: The Open Net Initiative and the CMLP are both affiliated with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society.)