One Small Step for Burmese Journalists, One Giant Step for Burma?

Burmese journalists protest press restrictions. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian.)

It's hard to overstate the relationship between a free, fair press and an open, democratic society. And in Myanmar, long known for having one of the most repressive and censorious regimes in the world when it comes to free expression, there's a small ray of hope this week for journalists and democracy activists alike - not to mention Burmese citizens. This week the Burmese government lifted substantial press restrictions by eliminating the requirement that journalists submit articles to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department prior to publication. This announcement is the latest development in efforts to expand freedom of expression and political rights in the country: revocation of earlier suspensions for two weekly magazines was successful following protests two weeks ago, and this morning, the National League for Democracy (NLD) was able to open a party office in Naypyitaw. READ MORE »

Security Starts With You: Kids Edition

harmless, until she Tweets her famous dad's current exact whereabouts

We're back with our regularly scheduled programming after a productive team retreat last week. We highlight recent security issues around the world in this week's news round-up, from Russia, to China, and on to Alexa Dell's Twitter account.

How to Become an NDItech Intern in 4 Easy Steps

If we wanted a coffee-wala we wouldn't offer hourly compensation.
  1. Read this post in its entirety
  2. Go to, click on Internships, and read the JD entitled "Intern/Project Assistant: ICT Programs"
  3. Apply to the ICT Intern position with your shiny, impressive resume (don't forget your grammatically correct cover letter)
  4. Do a celebratory dance and wait for us to call you.

For bonus points, you could write us a love song and sing it to us in a YouTube video, create a meme around digital security, or solve the Traveling Salesman problem. Actually if you solve the Traveling Salesman problem you should probably go ahead and apply at the NSA.

Working on the ICT team isn't like your internship on the Hill. Yeah, there's paper to be pushed and research to be done*, but ICT interns get to work on some really cool stuff, not to mention attending events and posting on this blog. And the team is pretty awesome, too: we're a knowledgeable group from diverse backgrounds, all passionate about technology and democracy. If you like all things international, tech, and/or activism, our team is probably the right place for you.

Oh, and did I mention it's a PAID internship?** READ MORE »

Ceci N'est Pas Une Site

It's one aspect of a communications plan.

Repeat after me: A web site is not a communications strategy.

Almost any program the NDItech team gets called in to help with calls for a web site. Whether it's a simple "brochureware" site with basic info on an organization or a highly sophisticated data analysis system, for some audiences an organization without a web presence simply doesn't exist.

The web site can be the beginning of a project, but is definitely not the end. In many situations, the web site becomes the central focus of all efforts; this is particularly true with slick modern data visualization or citizen reporting systems. As so much time and effort is poured into one central platform, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the site is not the program. I'm sometimes in meetings where people have clearly conflated the good of the web site with the goals of the project. It's one of the problems with monitoring and evaluation for such projects; the metrics you can watch easily, such as web hits, are useless for measuring impact.

In my recent work in Georgia, we are working on what is shaping up to be a fairly slick data aggregation and analysis system on the pre-election environment, Because everyone's focus has been on this platform, the tendency has been to lose perspective on the goals of the project, the related target audiences, and the best ways to reach them.  READ MORE »



Our team is on retreat today, so in lieu of a Monday Round-Up we have a few news items to share from the weekend and, of course, the necessary bit of random trivium. Enjoy your Monday and we'll be back with the Round-Up next week. READ MORE »

Stay Safe Online...Through Pictures?

Tips for Staying Safe Online (referenced below)

The need for civil society organizations and activists to understand best practices behind digital security and digital safety has grown exponentially over the past few years. This need has expanded beyond closed environments to more open societies that may not have as looming of a threat of communications interception, targeted malware attacks, and other dastardly deeds.

While there have been a lot of “wins” for civil society in restrictive environments to use ICTs to mobilize ahead of key political moments, these regimes continue to step up their efforts to counteract such communication.

Make it Easy to "Do the Right Thing" with TAILS

A tails screenshot: using Open Office, IceWeasel, and Pidgin Messenger

Computer security is unpleasant. It's inconvenient. It's confusing. It makes your life harder, prevents you from accessing what you want when you need it, and requires being very thoughtful and careful at all times. All together, it's no wonder that so many people don't do what they should even when they know it's the right thing to do. You have to make choices to keep yourself safe and anonymous, and we all go with the easy default settings at times, or slip up occasionally.

What we really need is a system that makes people Do the Right Thing without taking any special, onerous action. 

Enter TAILS: The Amnesiac Incognito Live System.

Let's break that one down. READ MORE »

Monday Round-Up: Forecasting the Future of Digital Publication

Books? Or future wall decorations? (Photo Credit: William Hoiles)

In the ongoing debate of potential business models for media publications, the New York Times believes it has found the right model for media publication, and an analyst at Barclay's agrees. According to Kannan Venkateshwar, digital subscriptions to the paper will exceed its print subscriptions by 2014. In another realm of publication, Amazon in the UK (not to be confused with a sound-alike song name) has announced their ebook sales have outstripped their print book sales. Both Amazon and the Times must contend with lower prices for digital media access as they explore how to best utilize technology, but increasing online subscriptions may point towards what the future holds for the paper publishing. In today's Monday Round-Up, we also have the latest on disaster mapping, the newest mobile developments, and more:

Lessons Learned: A Shift in ICT Programs

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking. - Einstein

Just like any other industry, the ICT for Development (ICT4D) field has experienced significant shifts. As major international development stakeholders have begun focusing on funding ICT projects, these shifts have widespread implications for how programs develop in the field.

The tone of the conversation surrounding ICT4D seems to be changing, as more emphasis is being placed on the strategy and implementations of projects instead of the infinite potential of technology. We have been a part of this converstaion, rethinking the question sustainability, ICT as a means and not a goal, and escaping the tunnel vision of technology.  Richard Heeks wrote about the early history of these changes in a paper entitled The ICT4D 2.0 Manifesto. Mr. Heeks explained the difference in earlier attitude between the first programs, and the projects in the field today. Early programs relied upon "technovelty" and focused more on spreading access as quickly as possible instead of on thoughtful implementation. He generalizes the outcome of those early projects into a few words: “failure...and anecdote[s].” Often programs would return with great stories about how technology had changed one individual's life, without analysis to the larger effects. Past the promotional materials, positive impact became difficult to assess, which in turn led to many projects today being framed by sustainability, scalability, and evaluation.  READ MORE »

Are you listening? Consultation in Policy Development

Pirate Party - Direct Democracy, with style

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to work with Social Democratic party members from around Southern and Eastern Europe (Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia) as part of a conference coordinated by NDI’s Regional Party initiative (RPI) and the ruling party in Montenegro, Demokratska Partija Socijalista. Thematically, the conference focused on ICT and political participation through sessions on transparency and accountability, campaigning, youth leadership and policy development.

The latter, policy development, is central to the conference series, and we discussed ways that smart applications of technology can improve the outcomes of policy development.

As we’ve witnessed in the last few years, the “internet public” reflects the changed nature of human beings as social and civic individuals.  As part of this phenomenon, new connections are increasingly important, and pertinent information gets shared rapidly. One driver of these tools for political use has been the perception that political bodies are self-interested, dysfunctional, and don’t represent citizen interests. We’ve seen citizens rebelling against this order in ongoing Arab Spring uprisings, the Occupy Movement, and newly founded political parties and organizations. READ MORE »

Monday Round-Up: The fastest net in the West

Elmer Fudd has no chance catching this wabbit
Google, in its onward march towards making everything, now offers internet service boasting speeds 100 times faster than what you currently have. Don't get too excited; as of now, the only city that has access to the incredibly fast speeds is Kansas City, Missouri. Not only that, but neighborhoods must reach a threshold in order to receive service and become a "fiberhood" (except for schools, hospitals, and community buildings, of course).  Still, with 5Mbps speeds for free, and 100 Gigabit internet speeds for $70, Google has given traditional ISPs a run for their money. Our other news today for the Monday Round-Up includes major donors renewed committment to ICT, findings from the latest Black Hat convention, and mobile phone impact:

Meme, the People

Nick Slaughter (or "Slotera Nika"), fictional mid-1990s candidate for Serbian president.

As anyone who has ever found their friends feed clogged up with pictures of Willy Wonka can attest, there's not much that spreads faster than an Internet meme. Apparently, however, the rapid transmission of dumb jokes can be utilized for more than just procrastination purposes. (Who knew?) 

We've talked a bit before about collective action problems and the uses of social media in making an idea go viral. However, there's also a lot to consider in terms of what makes a concept spread, peer-to-peer, among a given population; it's especially important in the process of democracy promotion, where the speedy and efficient diffusion of ideas is vital both to mobilize and to define a population. And, according to Merriam-Webster, a meme is defined as an "idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture."* All of which means that if you're interested in the business of spreading ideas and encouraging large-scale engagement, it's worth looking at what makes a meme take root among a given population and what we can learn about the fact that a given demographic has adopted it as its own.  READ MORE »

The Need's Not Blurry: Safeguarding Identity on Youtube

Now you *don't* see me...

For those of us in the tech4dem business, we are well aware of the power that social media has to share photo and video evidence of violations of democratic processes and demonstrations calling for protection of citizen's rights. However, in a world where pro-democracy activists are increasingly becoming targets for their actions both online and offline, there is a pressing need to protect the identities of such individuals. 

Enter the Cameras Everywhere initiative. Started by WITNESS, a leading organization on documentation of human rights abuses, this initiative is dedicated to safe video and photo documentation online and on mobile phones. They, together with the Guardian Project, developed the Android app ObscuraCam, which anonymizes photos by not only removing the meta data associated with the image file, but also by blurring, or obscuring, the faces shown in the photo.
This same functionality is now available through Youtube, known as a feature called "Blur All Faces". I tested this feature, and found it quite easy to use and function well. Here are the results and the steps on how you can blur faces too:

Monday Round-Up: The Battleground for Internet Freedom

The signal for internet freedom!
In an effort to combat restrictive internet policy, such as ACTA or SOPA, a number of internet sites including Mozilla, Imgur, Reddit, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have signed up to be a part of the Internet Defense League (IDL). Anyone can sign up, with the understanding that if such policy comes close to passing, all signees will take other unified action for internet freedom. This week's Monday Round-Up explores more stories concerning internet freedom and privacy, new advances in small computers, and the latest in dropping prices of mobile phones in developing countries. 

Monday Round-Up: When Movies Come True

Using touchscreen before it was cool

When "Minority Report" was released, it featured slick-looking, futuristic technology and a psychic police force. But is predictive crime fighting no longer limited to the silver screen? In this week's Monday Round-Up, we look at stories involving policing technology, Yahoo and Apple being hacked, and conferences discussing the importance of ICT, among other items.

The more you know...

...and knowing is half the battle

"Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein

...and perhaps technology allows the opportunity to use both. That's at least what I believe. Before moving to DC, and starting as a Project Assistant on the ICT team here at NDI, I spent 3 years as a social worker in Chicago. Besides enjoying the amazing food in the city, I got to see firsthand the empowering effect technology gives new users. After explaining to one client struggling with barriers to employment how her computer mouse was not the type she had to "shoot at in her basement," I showed her how she could both simplify her job searching and use instant messaging to talk to her grandson. Both of these realizations (mostly the latter) gave her the encouragement to come in once a day, five days a week, to regularly look for jobs, and to regularly send smiley faces to her grandson as she chatted with him after school. Sure enough, she eventually found employment and was able to give her grandson the presents he wanted for his birthday. READ MORE »

The Monday Round-Up: #SouthSudan and #opendata

South Sudan celebrates its first independence day. From
July 9, 2012 marks South Sudan's first independence day. We've been keeping an eye on the world's youngest nation since the vote for independence early last year - follow the #SouthSudan hashtag on Twitter for more updates and news on South Sudan's birthday.

OGP: Progress and Challenges

"What you don't know, can't hurt you."

As a part of our series on  last month’s Personal Democracy Forum conference in New York, I’m reflecting on a discussion of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Discussants included Caroline Mauldin, Juan Pardinas, John Wonderlich, and was moderated by David Eaves.
As we’ve covered before on this blog, OGP is an international mechanism which gets governments to make public commitments in national action plans to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. NDI’s Governance team participated in the Annual Meeting, NDI’s Elections team contributed to a publication on electoral transparency, the NDITech team has been advocating their work at a number of events, and NDI country teams have worked with member governments on their plans. Our team’s contributions to technology for openness and transparency in strengthening governance beyond country programs, also includes working on a CSO Declaration on Parliamentary Openness. READ MORE »

First in ICT Flight: Monday Round-Up

Photo courtesy of Balloons Over Britain

Today marks the anniversary of Steve Fossett's record-setting solo flight around the world in a hot air balloon in 2002, which in turn landed on the same sad date that Amelia Earhart disappeared in her own attempt at circumnavigation in 1937. To honor these aviary pioneers and their "firsts in flight", below are a few firsts (and seconds) in ICT:

What's Happening in Sudan?

Sudan Revolts slogans (via Girifna)

Sudanese citizens have been demonstrating since June 18, following a series of brutal crackdowns of demonstrations against the announcement of a new round of austerity measures impacting food and fuel prices. Protests are not new to Sudan, with a faltering economy, continued conflict in Darfur and disputes with South Sudan fueling discontent. However, the recent demonstrations have evolved into a popular uprising, calling for freedom, peace, justice and liberty and the end of Bashir's rule.

Many observers believe that these recent protests are an indication that Sudan may be having its own Arab Spring movement. Sudanese activists Yousif Mubarak and Sara Elhassan reported on the blog Muftah: READ MORE »

"Something Must Be Done-ism" - the dangers of controlling the internet

Cary Sherman at PDF

One of the fascinating threads woven throughout PDF was the way in which the networked world has made life hard for the gatekeepers of information, whether the copyright industry or control-minded governments. It’s a new world for those whose models were predicated on scarcity or manipulation of information.

Perhaps the bravest presenter at PDF was Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America; the organization which became the evil empire in the epic SOPA/PIPA fight last winter. Sherman did his level best to present the case for the copyright holders to the crowd, and he did so with aplomb. (The slides pictured in this article were brilliant.)

The conclusion he drew from charts of precipitous revenue falloff was that, while SOPA and PIPA might have been poorly executed, something must be done to save artists (and, btw, the RIAA) by protecting copyright. If we had Vladimir Putin on the stage, I imagine that the words would be different but the tune the same; something must be done to stop the threats that Russia and other states face from online criminals, terrorists, and the other four horsemen of the digital apocalypse. READ MORE »

This is the part where I pretend I'm new.

what my first "web site" looked like.

My name is Alayna, and I'm a geek.

But not your typical geek - okay, yes, I do love Battlestar Galactica, I follow Stephen Hawking on Twitter (even though the last time he Tweeted was over two years ago), and I may or may not be teaching myself PHP. But aside from all that: I love the outdoors, speaking Spanish, and traveling.

Which means the NDI ICT team is the perfect place for me - we're a team with interests and backgrounds that vary from system administration, accessible education, Mandarin, and table tennis, but we're united by our common interest in technology. Last year I graduated with a BA in International Studies and Spanish from Hope College in Michigan, moved to DC in February, and started hanging out with ICT in March.

My interest in technology started back in middle school, when I discovered at my local Hamburg Township Library a small, hard-backed book that proclaimed it would teach me how to build a website. I was immediately intrigued - I took it home and had my first webpage coded and up (read: hosted on my local machine and displayed in the browser) in a matter of minutes. That first "Hello World!" set me down a path that led to a 2nd place national win in a website design competition in high school, declaring a Computer Science major (later demoted to a minor) by the end of freshman year of college, and now, to a place on the ICT team at NDI. READ MORE »

How the Internet *really* works: The Monday Round-Up

How the Internet works. thanks to

In addition to forming the very organization that in turn produced a cool democracy-supporting non-profit (read: us), President Ronald Reagan declared June 25 as National Catfish Day in the United States. After reading this week's news round-up, celebrate with a nice piece of fresh fish.



Lessons from #PDF12: leaving the republic of Nerdistan

What my after-school coordinator tweets might have looked like.

I spent more time tweeting during my 48 hours at PDF12 than I had in the past six months. This is not an exaggeration; I ran the numbers. (And you can too, if you follow me, @hillaryeason. Ahem.) Part of this, of course, was due to the fact that I was at a conference that was About Technology; not only was this kind of tech widely used, it also acted as a signaling mechanism, establishing the Tweeter as someone who was engaged and tech-savvy. In that respect, at least, the demands of this job differ substantially from my last gig.

But as I was thinking about the ways in which I, as an NDI employee, actually use Twitter, I realized that I certainly could have used this kind of technology the last time I worked in this city. I ran an after-school program in a high-crime, low-income neighborhood that served 200 kids and employed 20 staff. I had next to no resources, was constantly trying to communicate information to overworked teachers who were never in the same place at the same time, and had to somehow funnel info on all of these challenges to my bosses at the public school district in order to make any kind of change. Isn't that what Twitter is for? READ MORE »

Online Life in China: 我们都在织微波吗?

Faces in Support of Chen Guangcheng ( - referenced by An Xiao Mina

Last week, our team was able to attend the Personal Democracy Forum (PDF). One of my favorite panels was "Online Life in China". In case you didn't know, sometimes content posted online in China is filtered and removed, which can have obvious impacts on how Chinese internet users can express themselves and access information online. 

David Wertime from Tea Leaf Nation, a popular blog that follows social media trends in China, made some important distinctions in use of local social media platforms in China. While many people refer to Sina Weibo (one of the largest microblogging platforms in China) as "China's Twitter", there are some key distinctions that make the comparison not quite balanced. While in Roman-based languages, 140 characters is quite limiting in what you can express. Whereas in Chinese, 140 characters is literally 140 words, allowing Chinese speakers to express longer sentiments. (Fact: "Weibo" or 微博 in Chinese literally means "Microblog", based off of "Boke" or 博客 which means "Blog"). In addition, while Sina Weibo does have many similar functions to Twitter (hashtags, retweets, etc.), one can also embed video and image files directly into tweets, and can "comment" on tweets as well. This comment capability is what enables Weibo to be "the closest thing China has to a platform for free speech" and is a strong democratizing feature.  READ MORE »

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