U.S. Developing 'Internet in a Suitcase' to Outflank Repressive Governments
The United States is spearheading an effort to maintain Internet and mobile phone service for citizens in countries where repressive governments use censorship or shut down telecommunications in the face of dissent, according to reports.
The State Department-led project involves the building of independent phone networks in foreign countries and the creation of a $2-million prototype "Internet in a suitcase" by an entrepreneurial outfit operating out of a building on L Street in Washington, D.C., The New York Times reported Monday.
The idea is to fit innocent-looking hardware components into a package that could easily be snuck into a repressive country and quickly assembled to deliver wireless service across a wide area to maintain crucial communications between legitimately protesting citizens, according to The Times, which cited "dozens of interviews, planning documents and classified diplomatic cables" it obtained.
"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," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was quoted as saying by the paper.
"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."
In addition to the "Internet-in-a-suitcase" project, the State Department is funding "stealth wireless networks" in Iran, Syria, and Libya, among other countries.
Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon are also teaming up on a $50-million project to build an independent cellphone network in Afghanistan—where the Taliban has been able to shut down service "seemingly at will" —with cell towers located on military bases in the country, the newspaper reported.
The "Arab Spring" uprisings of the past several months have drawn attention to network shutdowns and censorship conducted by regimes under threat like the Syrian and Egyptian governments as they attempt to stifle protesting citizens' ability to communicate with each other and to inform the outside world of what's going on in the protest zones.
The Times noted that the Obama administration's "shadow" Internet project is ambitious, but could be considered a next step in decades-long U.S. efforts to foster democratic, potentially U.S.-friendly movements in countries with hostile regimes through media like its Voice of America radio broadcasts.
The various projects incorporate both U.S. government-developed technologies and "tools that have already been created by hackers in a so-called liberation-technology movement sweeping the globe."
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Friday, 10 February 2012
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