Syrians turn to satellites as Internet shutdown continues

The Internet blackout is more complete in Syria than it was during events in Egypt almost two years ago

Syrians are turning to satellites to communicate as the country's Internet connections are shut down, but instances of jamming are making even that challenging. Google is also allowing people who can find a working phone publish voice messages on Twitter.

Internet connections between Syria and the rest of the world were blocked Thursday, and remained down Friday with websites hosted in the country still not accessible from outside.

The blackout is more complete than when other countries have been cut from the Internet, the content network delivery company CloudFlare said in a blog post.

Some telephone landlines are working, but most information is coming out of Syria using satellite connections for telephony and Internet access, according to Rami Abdurrahman, founder and director at the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

However, the high cost of such connections limits the amount of information, including videos, that can be sent to and from Syria, he said.

Satellites were also one of the ways Egyptians managed to communicate when Internet connections were severed there.

But even communicating via satellites isn't without complications in Syria today.

"There have been quite a few instances of jamming in Syria; a game of cat and mouse with satellite operators," said a satellite industry worker with knowledge of the situation.

People who can find a working phone can use Google's Speak2Tweet to transmit a message via Twitter. The service posts links to audio recordings of the messages left, but does not convert them to text.

Google worked with Twitter to create the service a little less than two years ago, when Internet access was cut off in Egypt.

At the time of writing, 14 messages had been posted in the last 12 hours. The service had not previously been used since July. Of those 14 messages, six were of English speakers saying "This is a test," four were of dance music or other ambient noise, and four were of voices speaking languages other than English.

Human rights campaigning organization Amnesty International is extremely worried about the current situation in Syria, it said in a statement on Friday.

The shutdown of communications may herald the intention of Syrian authorities to shield the truth of what is happening in the country from the outside world, according to the organization.

"It is time to stop war crimes and crimes against humanity, not to commit them behind a wall of silence. Anyone committing such acts should know that they will be held accountable in the future," Amnesty said.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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