Among all the excited commentary about the role of social networking in the Arab spring, one uncomfortable fact stands out: internet censorship and surveillance are alive and well in Tunisia and Egypt. They're being orchestrated and supervised by (mostly) different people, of course, but the intermediaries implementing it are the same as before: western technology companies that are apparently prepared to sell filtering and surveillance kit to anyone with a government purchase order. And the result is the same as before: a webpage saying "Sorry: the page you requested does not exist". Except that some regimes exclude the apology.
As the internet becomes more central to our lives, the power of the commercial companies that mediate citizens' interactions with one another and with the state increases with every passing day. The Arab spring appeared to be a case study of this, but we got a brief glimpse of it here during last year's outbreak of recreational looting, when the prime minister irritably flirted with the idea of shutting down social networks and the BlackBerry instant-messaging service. The thought that this might be an infringement of our civil rights doesn't seem to have crossed his mind.