Ten years ago, a Senate bill proposed by Sens. John Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe spurred considerable controversy. The bill, which never even came up for a vote, would have made it possible for the U.S. government to build an “internet kill switch” that would allow it to shut off the internet in the event of an emergency. The proposal drew significant criticism, and U.S. politicians backed off relatively quickly, but in other countries around the world, the kill switch model was—and is—very real, as Iran’s government has just demonstrated. On Nov. 16, amid widespread political protest, most of the country was cut off from the global internet. After five days of isolation, the government announced Thursday that access would be “gradually restored.”
Iran is not the first country to disconnect itself from the global internet as a means of quelling civil unrest—Egypt did a very similar thing back in 2011. Sudan cut off online access just this summer, as did Ethiopia. In fact, in 2019, the internet kill switch seems to be having a bit of a moment. Russia, apparently, has plans to test its own ability to cut its internal internet infrastructure off from the outside world, as part of a new internet law passed this year.