I'm off in Georgia (no, not this one) working with an assortment of partners on the nation's upcoming Parliamentary elections, with a very important presidential poll a few months behind. It's a beautiful country with well-educated people, solid tech infrastructure, and awful grappa-like alcohol called chacha. It's come a very long way since the Rose Revolution of 2003, and is a relative democratic success story, but we still need to make sure no one puts a thumb on the scales in these upcoming elections.
NDI is assisting three big partners - the International Society for Elections and Democracy (ISFED), the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association (GYLA), and Transparency International Georgia (TI-G). Collectively these trusted Georgian organizations have a tremendous experience in monitoring and are supported by nation-wide networks of committed volunteers and activists. They have successfully kept a wary eye on numerous big elections in the past, but NDI is finding that focusing on the vote itself isn't enough any more. READ MORE »
Last week I attended the Media Access Project (MAP) event, part of a series of forums on “How Technologies Are Changing Our World View”. Tuesday's topic: The Global Internet and the Free Flow of Information. Panelists were invited from a number of sectors - including academia, business, and policy - to participate in two panels; the first discussed the threats and challenges facing online expressions and the second focused on public policies that can protect online freedoms. There were many interesting perspectives, opinions, and facts presented, and here are some of the most important ones that will affect our work.
Technology companies have been expanding their markets by providing tools and services to people around the world. As companies enter new markets and introduce new products, they face a number of challenges. Will their technologies be used to limit human rights? Do local laws require them to share user information to governments, and if so will they comply? These issue have already been seen (Yahoo handing over data on Chinese dissidents who were then imprisoned) and will continue to be seen. Moreover, there has been growing pressure on companies to develop policies surrounding human rights issues and regularly assess these issues as companies expand. The trend of companies developing policies around these issues is important, as it will change the threats and concerns that users face when using technology tools.
Late last week, news broke that following several self-immolations among Tibetan Buddhist and clashes of violence against protesters demanding Tibetan autonomy, China has cutoff Internet connectivity and mobile phone signals for 30 miles around the main clashes taking place in Sichuan province. Last resort techniques like these are unfortunately not new. Even prior to the most famous case of unplugging the Internet, China cut off internet access and limited mobile services in the Xinjiang region in 2009 for several months as a response to outbreaks of violence. But while key officials under the Mukarak regime have been punished in their pocketbooks, the ability and desire of repressive regimes to deploy internet outages as a means to eliminate dissidence presents yet another hurdle in attempts to ensure democracy and transparency worldwide. During volatile political moments, it becomes challenging to verify information on current events. Currently, foreign journalists are prohibited from entering affected Tibetan areas, making it extremely difficult to verify reports about the current situation. Adding to the complexity of obtaining verifiable information are the “human elements”, where concerns about the threatened safety of involved persons can add a panic-induced frenzy and desperation for accurate information. READ MORE »
Yesterday I spent my lunchtime at the Center for International Media Assistance's event on Media Development and Aid Effectiveness. This event celebrated the release of a new report, 'Rethinking Media Development,' which drew some conclusions from the ongoing Media Mapping Project. Many of these conclusions were reflected in the panel discusssion. Sina Odugbemi from the World Bank moderated a panel including Daniel Kaufmann (Brookings Institute), Mark Nelson (World Bank Institute), and Tara Susman-Pena (Internews). While 'aid effectiveness' took a backseat during much of the discussion, the panelists engaged in an interesting dicussion on the relationship media development has to media freedom and the development ecosystem as a whole. While there were many great takeaways from all the panelists, here are some of the most important:
While a good amount of research has been done on the relationship between media and development, this research has not been well applied to policy or practice. The "preponderance of evidence" supports the link between the media sector and economic development and governance, but this link is not entirely understood. This lack of understanding means the research hasn't been well applied to media development projects and policies.
Media development needs to be incorporated into an overall development strategy. It is equally important to incorporate national leadership and ownership of media projects, grounding media development in the culture and politics of the country.
Innovation is, according to Bill Gates, the "key to improving the world." Innovative technology is making its mark in the developing world, garnering the attention of both the public and private sectors. Companies like Nokia, Microsoft, and Google have led the trend of "reverse innovation," designing technologies especially for emerging markets. More direct, people-led innovation is occuring in Innovation Hubs all around Africa. These tech hubs, which provide space for collaboration and innovation, should continue to grow in 2012 and beyond. Last year, we all marveled at the ingenious mobile phone system created by the rebels in Libya - further raising confidence in the innovative minds of North Africa. But this week has helped bring awareness to innovation in a seemingly unlikely place - Afghanistan. READ MORE »
This semester I am taking a course on "Prediciting the Futures". While I am no expert in the techniques that futurists use, I thought it might be fun to look at some predictions that have been made for 2012 and see how they apply to our field.
A few predictions that stood out and are bound to have an effect on our work are:
The shift from feature phone to smart phone and tablets. This prediction caught my attention because it builds on the findings of a report that was released by Center for International Assistance and the National Endowment for Democracy. As we mentioned a few weeks back, this report finds that by end of the decade virtually all cell phones sold will be smart phones. This shift is bound to impact our work. Take, for example, citizen journalism. With smart phones, citizens can report on issues by sending in a text, or a picture, or a video. Citizens can use their smart phones to capture stories through various mediums and thus bring to light stories that are missed by the mainstream media. This presents an opportunity for us to work with civil society groups and activists in new and exciting ways. Of course, it is not all rosy and it is imperative that we also address the challenges that come with switching to smart phones.
A new collaborative documentary project, 18 Days in Egypt, will tell the story of last years Egyptian Revolution through the experiences of citizens on the ground using their videos, tweets, and testimony.
The recent announcement of a Belarusian law on aspects of Internet regulation certainly raised a number of alarm bells for many groups seeking to protect free expression online. Certainly, Belarus is no stranger to internet repression, ranging from pro-democracy websites repeatedly under attack, tracking down and arresting activists, and many other insidious acts. Given the extensive and differing coverage of the law in the press, here is a summary of what is expected to take place with this law.
In order to implement the norms stipulated by Decree of the Council of Ministers on February 1, 2010, No. 60 (which states that any entity in Belarus selling goods or services to Belarus citizens on the web must use the .by Belarusian domain name), Belarusian authorities have implemented Law No. 317-3. Fines for breaking the law range as high as 1m Belarus rubles (£77; $120).
This year has certainly been a roller coaster for the role of the internet in global society. While there have been many advances in protections for the rights of users, unfortunately, there have also been massive steps backward in this arena. Recently, the Diplo Foundation hosted a webinar with Jovan Kurbalija (who literally wrote the book on Internet governance) about the 10 biggest developments in IG in 2011. After participating in the webinar, I began to reflect on these developments have been tied to NDI's work. The full list of developments are available here, and below is a sample of how NDI has contributed to and tracked these developments:
If there's a statute of limitations on event-blogging, this update probably exceeds it - thankfully, innovations in government transparency and citizen monitoring are always timely. Three weeks ago, Facebook teamed up with the offices of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer to host a "Congressional Hackathon." While no actual hacking took place during the event, it was a great opportunity to collaborate and brainstorm new ideas as part of an ongoing conversation about demand for legislative data, standards for sharing, and how to modernize constituent relations. Congressman Darryl Issa even announced a new platform that allows individuals to collaborate and mark up legislation with their own proposals and suggestions. READ MORE »
And while I can't speak to the details of our (*cough*netfreedom*) work, I can say that I'm sorely disappointed that not a single report from rumored "Reindeer games" to select the sleigh-leader has surfaced. This being a season for hope, I'd like to believe this is because the happy elves simply don't have any messages to broadcast to the outside world. But we all know just how unaccountable the Workshop can be, so if you find any curious images or recordings on your shiny new Christmas electronics, please let us know. READ MORE »
Skilled political organizer used to wrangling data? Russian speaker? Got tech? We're hiring.
The NDItech team is looking for someone to run a critical project in Eastern Europe for a period of approximately three months. The job: teaming with activist organizations who are learning to use online datastores and CRM systems to manage their information to win elections. They're savvy campaigners and used to tech, but the cloud will be new to them and comes with significant risks.
In addition to teaching how to take advantage of such systems safely you'll be helping these groups design field plans, advising on communications strategies and assisting with setting up training programs. Language skills are critical to ensure the ability to work side by side with our partners in these highly motivated activism and advocacy groups.
As our boots-on-the-ground operating out of an NDI field office you will have significant project input while being be supported by an expert team of tech, advocacy, and communications professionals. This is an excellent gig for a data and organizing ninja/rockstar/guru. You must be highly mobile, competent, and self-directed.
Internet Freedom has been a hot topic recently. At the Freedom Online Conference last week, discussion focused on the roles different actors have in promoting and protecting human rights online. In Congress, SOPA and PIPA have stirred the debate about freedoms online within the United States. And now, there's a new bill on the block.
The Global Online Freedom Act, also known as GOFA, introduced in the House by Representative Chris Smith, specifically addresses the relationship private companies have to security and freedoms online. Originally introduced a few years ago, recent events have brought new life into this initiative. The bill aims at preventing repressive governments from transforming the Internet into a tool of censorship and surveillance by encouraging greater transparency and accountability in the US Internet security sector. While these monitoring and surveillance technologies have legitimate uses assisting law enforcement and protecting citizens, repressive regimes around the world apply technology developed by American companies to stifle freedom of speech and expression, as well as to quell dissent. Many companies do not have policies for dealing with the recent proliferation of cyber-repression, so this bill looks to give government guidance on these issues. READ MORE »
“What is the internet that we hope to create?” That question, posed by Ben Wagner, was answered by a multitude of voices from government, business, academia, and civil society: an internet that is open and maintains the principles of human rights. At the Freedom Online conference (or iFreedom) held in the Netherlands, several representatives from these sectors were present to discuss what governments can do to protect human rights online, how to support bloggers and cyber dissidents, and how companies ensure freedom online. Below are some of the key highlights from this event.
The event started with a welcome by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. The Netherlands’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Uri Rosenthal opened the conference, stating that freedom online is an extra dimension of freedom of speech, a fundamental freedom in democracy. Rosenthal points out that old censorship techniques are still continuing in many countries, and “we should not make their life easier by providing them with filter technology.” He points out that “tight control on the internet impinges on our freedom of speech, association and assembly. And it means that violations of other human rights are kept away from us.” Secretary Clinton’s keynote speech followed, and echoed many of the themes addressed in her earlier speeches on internet freedom. She states that all human are entitled to freedom of speech “whether they choose to exercise them in a city square or an internet chat room” and that we must “protect the internet itself from plans that would undermine its fundamental characteristics”, as fragmenting the global internet would change the landscape of cyberspace by creating “digital bubbles” instead of meaningful connections between internet users. READ MORE »
NDI is embracing Google Plus internally as part of our migration to the 'plex's set of tools. However, for those of us in the democracy support world social media presents risks to others beyond the standard fear of drunken holiday party pics. This post shares some of the dangers we need to bear in mind.
"Man is by nature a social animal," as some dude observerved about 2300 years ago. Given our nature, it's not surprising that social media platforms such as Facebook and now Google Plus act like crack for our psyche. On these pages we tend to focus on activists fighting against authoritarian regimes, but it works for them precisely because it works for my aunt. Facebook as a purely revolutionary platform would not only have been unprofitable (I doubt the RiseUp collective is mulling an IPO at $100 billion) but it would also have been ineffective, as activating and informing average joes is where the real power lies.
All that hagiography is old hat, so today I'm going to focus on another aspect that needs to be in our minds alongside the astonishing statistics and inspirational stories: the dark side of social media. READ MORE »
Digital security has become a part of everyday life. We all know about computer viruses, email scams and Facebook privacy settings and how they can run amok with our information. But for those who use these channels to advocate for democracy, digital security goes beyond protecting our embarrassing photos and banks accounts. It can serve as a connection to the outside world and a line of defense against harassment and arrest faced by activists around the world.
But security goes beyond anti-virus software, encryption and circumvention measures. Security has to be part of a complete solution, where tools are only part of the process. And each solution will be unique. Some of the steps and tools for tailoring a custom security solution I've found in my time at NDITech are: READ MORE »
Hello dear readers - As is becoming somethingof atradition I'm going to do a pot of liveblogging for Day Two of Round One of the First House of the Egyptian Elections. I'm doing it in reverse-cron format with newer stuff at the top. Regretfully I have to catch a plane to Nigeria tonight, so I'm going to be abandoning my friends here before the bitter end.
And my time here is drawing to an end. We've been making a big push on our media outreach. Like the proverbial tree in the forest we want to make sure someone can hear the statements from Project Rakeeb. We landed one particularly big fish today with the Washington Post, who called Rakeeb "a team of well-regarded Egyptian electoral observers." Hopefully this will snowball into more mentions in other sources. READ MORE »
I'm on the ground in Cairo supporting the first big electoral test of Egypt's revolution. At least that's the plan. As you might have noticed if you've been anywhere close to a media outlet in the last week, things have been a bit chaotic, and it's not a lock that the polls will take place on time. NDI works in a lot of volatile places, particularly around elections. Unpredictable environments like this leave us with a lot of factors that are simply not in our control.
Egypt is shaping up as the gold standard for those cases.
It's not really my role to comment on the politics of the situation in these pages, so I'll simply say the dynamics are fascinating, confusing, and worrisome. The twitters are again proving an excellent resource (#egypt, #egyelections, #nov26, #tahrir and old standby #jan25 are hot) and alumna Katherine Maher is posting interesting on-the-ground updates with Access Now on their blog. READ MORE »