If you are in Washington, DC, join us for the first-ever Tech4Dem Tuesday Happy Hour this coming Tuesday, August 28 at RFD. Think beer, open government, tech for parliamentary monitoring, elections, good governance - all things tech for democracy worldwide. Laugh, cry, and drink with your fellow DCers who work to make democracy work with tech the world over.
Who: If you're working on or interested in tech for democracy, fair elections, good governance, a free media, and citizen voice, come on over. We'll feature several interesting projects each month (informally, over the din of the bar), so if you have cool stuff to show off, bring it! We'll be bringing TAILS, the tool that gives you privacy for everyone anywhere.
Where: RFD Bar 810 7th Street Northwest Washington, DC 20001
When: Tech4Dem Tuesday, of course - August 28, 5:30pm on.
Why: Because anyone who works in this field knows that we love to socialize, talk shop, and share ideas. And hey, as they say, working for democracy and making democracy work never ends, but it's better with a beer.
RSVP below so that we have an idea of headcount and can warn the bar. We may just spring for your first round if you let us know you're coming!
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.
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 reallycoolstuff, 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 »
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, http://electionportal.ge/en/. 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 »
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.
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.
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 »
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 »
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?)
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:
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.
Kim Dotcom, of Megaupload fame, is now adding his own appeal to keep the internet free through music
"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 »
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.
Reuters has a great slideshow of South Sudan's first year of independence, and The Guardian discusses the challenges still facing the nascent nation.
A US congressional inquiry reveals that local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities made over 1 million demands for private information from cell phone companies last year. The data includes geolocation information, calls made and received, and contents of text messages.
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:
Major websites including Reddit, Mozilla, and Gawker all experienced a bug caused by the "Leap Second", a 1 second adjustment meant to keep Coordinated Universal time close to solar time, and in turn caused problems for platforms using Network Time Protocol.
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.
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 »
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 »
I spent more time tweeting during my 48 hours at PDF12than 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 »