American officials, tech groups urge Egypt to restore communications

White House calls Internet a basic human right.

Many groups and top government officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called on Egypt Friday to allow access to the Internet and other communications systems.

"We urge the Egyptian authorities to allow peaceful protests and to reverse the unprecedented steps it has taken to cut off communications," Clinton said at a joint appearance with Columbian Vice President Angelino Garzon.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also addressed the communications situation during his afternoon briefing, calling Internet access a basic human right.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Internet access is a vital tool for protecting basic freedoms.

"A free and open internet is essential to ensuring the universal rights of the people of Egypt, and of all peoples, to freedom of expression, confidence in the rule of law, and government that is transparent and accountable to the citizens," he said in a statement Friday afternoon.

The Center for Democracy & Technology called Egypt's actions a "stunning and highly counterproductive step backwards" and said it illustrated the vulnerability of communications technology.

"While we appreciate that some companies involved have acknowledged their role, events unfolding across the region underscore how critical it is for companies operating in these risky environments to have robust strategies to push back on government demands inconsistent with rule of law and respect for human rights," said the center's international project director, Cynthia Wong.

And other groups looked for American connections to the Internet blackout.

Free Press Campaign Director Timothy Karr accused U.S. companies of selling technology to Egypt and helping the government crackdown on free speech.

"What we are seeing in Egypt is a frightening example of how the power of technology can be abused," he said. "Commercial operators trafficking in Deep Packet Inspection technology to violate Internet users' privacy is bad enough; in government hands, that same invasion of privacy can quickly lead to stark human rights violations."