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Toppling Govts via Twitter

Written by Katherine J. Bunnage  •  June 2011 PDF Print E-mail

Facebook and Twitter have recently been employed to stage anti-government protests in in Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia. However, dictators have found ways to censor Internet access and prevent the flow of “harmful” information from getting out.

On June 12, The New York Times reported that the United States government is involved in a plan to help those involved in anti-dictatorship protests regain Internet access. The plan, dubbed “liberation technology,” is being funded by grants from the U.S. State Department and Pentagon.  To achieve this, several actions are being taken place. 

For example, young entrepreneurs are spearheading the plan and are currently developing a tiny device called “Internet in a suitcase.” The beauty of the device is that it “…could be secretly handed off in a censored country, then quickly set up to provide wireless Internet service over a wide area.”

The Pentagon and State Department are working on establishing independent cell-phone networks in countries that are controlled by oppressive regimes. The enhancement of stealth networks that would let users communicate with each other sans government repression is being backed by the State Department.

In addition, “the U.S. has also supported development of software that preserves the anonymity of users, which may play a role in China.” It has also been reported that United States agents have hidden cell-phones close to the border of North Korea, where fleeing people could have access.

“These latest actions are new fronts in the age-old war of information. For decades, the U.S. has supported radio broadcasts into autocratic countries, often playing messages of freedom and hope.”

Feats related to the “liberation technology” plan could be the answer that protestors in strict dictatorships have been waiting for. The plan will allow Internet access and other restricted forms of media into countries such as Iran, Libya, and Syria.

Although “liberation technology” sounds good in theory, there are risks involved with this plan. Those wary of the “liberation technology” plan worry that it could help aggressive governments in their search for protestors or somehow end up being controlled by “…terrorists or other dangerous elements.”  

Supporters of the plan such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “…hope the benefits of [the plan] in organizing popular democratic movements will outweigh the risks.” 

According to Secretary of State Clinton, “We see more and more people around the globe using the Internet, mobile phones and other technologies to make their voices heard as they protest against injustice and seek to realize their aspirations. There is a historic opportunity to effect positive change, change America supports. So we're focused on helping them do that, on helping them talk to each other, to their communities, to their governments and to the world.” 

Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, is another supporter of the “liberation technology” plan. Mr. Meinrath stated that “We're going to build a separate infrastructure where the technology is nearly impossible to shut down, to control, to surveil.” Mr Meinrath added: ‘The implication is that this disempowers central authorities from infringing on people's fundamental human right to communicate.” 


Katherine J. Bunnage has worked in the financial services industry for years.  She studied political science at UCLA and now writes on international affairs for the LA Times, Boston Chronicle, and the Christian Science Monitor to name a few.

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written by Aun , July 07, 2011

pakistan suffers from a number of 'diseases', like corruption, poverty, illiteracy, inflation,... the list goes on. but we the citizens continue to live on ignoring all problems hoping they will go away. it is up to us to bring a change.
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written by Sabeen Rai , July 06, 2011

"The implication is that this disempowers central authorities from infringing on people's fundamental human right to communicate." Very true. ICTs have done wonders across the globe in recent times. It is a marvel how it integrates well in the modern times and has more recently helped people connect and share. It is time that our South Asian leaders also realise that their public is op en to all this technology and that sooner or later they too can be questioned. Lets hope this is not too much of wishful thinking.
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'internet in a suitcase'
written by Sidra Rizvi , July 05, 2011

The use of social media websites to spread awareness and bring a change is unparalled. the revolution in Egypt which lasted just a few days would not have been the same if websites like Facebook had not played a part. While govts think they can curb the spread of information by cutting down Internet access, people willing to bring forward the truth always manage to find other ways. the article manage to highlight a few ways this can be done like Internet in a suitcase. if made functional, this device can work wonders especially in countries like Syria, where dictators like to think they control everything.
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