Drawing the Map: Egypt’s Ban of GPS

This brief Times piece is worth a look. Egypt demanded for national security reasons that GPS capability be disabled in Egyptian iPhones and Apple very quietly complied. At first glance, this may seem a trivial detail to complain about, and even in an often volatile Egypt, a reasonable kind of security restriction. (Anti-American insurgents in Iraq have become very sophisticated in adapting disposable phones to evade eavesdropping and to detonate homemade sticky bombs.) The article did raise, however, this very interesting point:

It is enough to make one ask if new technologies — the personal computer, the World Wide Web, the all-powerful smartphone — will help set us free or merely give us that illusion.

One of the leading questions driving the Berkman study of the Saffron Revolution in Burma was why, if the internet and mobile phone technology had helped thousands to organize, to protest and to publicize the internal nightmare of Burma’s authoritarian military regime, had substantial democratic freedom or even some level of reform not resulted?

There seems to be a gap between the democratic potential for technology and its actual effect on the ground. Though the internet was more difficult to contain than old mass media models (which could be “licensed” and gagged), Burma quickly discovered ways to monitor and clamp down on internet activity of any kind.

Much more subtle has been the attempt of countries like Turkey and Thailand (in collaboration with YouTube) to close off information worlds involving sensitive political topics by implementing geolocational filtering into search queries.

In this context, Egypt’s ban of GPS (though admittedly less driven by taboo content or free speech restrictions) is simply another step down the road to a re-bordered technological future, where the liberating potential of devices like the iPhone is hamstrung in the name of broadly worded memes like “national security,” “lèse majesté” or “insulting Turkishness.”

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2 Responses to “Drawing the Map: Egypt’s Ban of GPS”

  1. ray Says:

    Wow I can’t beleive Egypt dislikes GPS’s so much!

  2. streetpilot c340 Says:

    “Much more subtle has been the attempt of countries like Turkey and Thailand (in collaboration with YouTube) to close off information worlds involving sensitive political topics by implementing geolocational filtering into search queries.”

    Wow, I never knew that such a filter existed. I hope the US never does anything like this. Somehow I doubt they will though. Only time will tell.