Greetings, fellow Autocrats and Internet Oppressors!
The rapid pace in which information can spread in this internet era makes activities by some hard to hide. This is bad news for the corrupt or repressive. Organizations like NDI support a free and open internet as part of a democratic society, and civil society is getting better at sharing the information you'd want no one to know.
You didn’t want people to talk about the bribes they’re forced to pay? NICE TRY. Thought citizens wouldn’t want news about ongoing protests? NOPE.
So if you’re a leader or a legislator that’s fed up with all this “transparency” and “good governance” nonsense, keep on reading! We’ll give you tips and tricks to make you wrestle back control of telecommunication to keep any criticisms and free expression at bay: READ MORE »
As technology has evolved it has become increasingly commonplace for us as users of technology to expect our files to be where we are. With solutions like Dropbox.com, Google Drive, Box.com, OneDrive by Microsoft we are often allocated a moderate amount of space. Yet with recent revelations about surveillance and censorship by the NSA and others and the cost prohibitive nature of using these tools when larger volumes of storage are required I wondered if there wasn’t a solution that was 1.) Free and 2.) more secure. This led me to BitTorrent Sync. First, BitTorrent Sync is free, although not open source. It works on Windows, Mac, Linux, ARM, Intel, iOS, Android, and several others. It has both desktop and mobile based applications. You can even install it on a NAS device. 2. Your data is only stored on your devices. BitTorrent Sync makes the following security claims
“The system uses SRP for mutual authentication and for generating session keys that ensure Perfect Forward Secrecy. All traffic between devices is encrypted with AES-128 in counter mode, using a unique session key.
The secret is a randomly generated 20-byte key. It is Base32-encoded in order to be readable by humans. BitTorrent Sync uses /dev/random (Mac, Linux) and the Crypto API (Windows) in order to produce a completely random string. This authentication approach is significantly stronger than a login/password combination used by other services.“
What BitTorrent Sync allows you as a user of data to do is to bypass the middleman on the internet as the image below illustrates. Much like traditional P2P technologies you are simply downloading files from other devices.
The past several months have seen protest movements take place in Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as in many other places around the world. As these movements have arisen it has been an ongoing question as to whether it was possible to utlize the Internet to determine the scale and scope of these movements. Both countries experienced some form of protest movement that resulted in on the ground action in their respective capitals. Is it possible to identify how successful a protest movement is just by looking at the publicly available online flow of information? When trying to assess the importance of technology in a democracy there are dozens of questions that need answering. This hints at the broader processes of understanding how technology and society interact. Furthermore, it allows us to grasp in real terms how citizens of a country are using technology to discuss, mobilize and engage around political issues in a way other than formal polling.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Ukraine are very different in many respects. Although both have ethnic divisions the depth of these ethnic divisions, at least on the surface, appears to be significantly different. BiH has approximately 65% Internet penetration while Ukraine has just under 40% penetration. Ukraine has 3.2 million active users of Facebook while BiH has 1.54 million. Ukraine has approximately 10 times as many people as BiH and covers a significantly larger geographic area. Both sets of protests achieved international media attention, but if we look behind the sheen of the international media and we examine what people in the country were talking about can derive we a non-scientific assessment of the scale of these two different movements? READ MORE »
Are you a tech junkie? Do you believe that politics matters? Do you want to make the world a (ever-so-slightly) better place? Nothing particular going on this summer?
You're in luck. We're hiring.
This paid internship, available immediately, would give you an important role on our little team. If you read our blog you'll get a sense of what we're up to - there's always an interesting mix of work designing and implementing creative, appropriate tech-empowered programs across NDI's 60+ program countries. You'll be in charge of thinking how to apply cutting-edge technology to developing-world problems, testing out tools in our lab, researching what shenanigans autocrats around the world are up to, attending events, blogging right here, managing our social media platforms, setting up happy hours, and more. It only gets overwhelming sometimes.
The NDItech team sits at the intersection of three worlds. We strongly believe that empowering citizens and making government work better matters. We love technology. We care about sustainable international development. A perfect background would bridge organzing, campaigns, or government, time overseas, and a drive to tinker with tech. We're not expecting you to be a programmer or systems administrator - we need people who can think about how to apply tech to real-world problems in some of the globe's most challenging environments.
The upcoming Afghanistan election (5 April) is the third presidential poll since the fall of the Taliban, and should pave the way for the country's first-ever peaceful democratic transfer of power.
Given the public’s lack of confidence in the government’s ability to run a credible election, NDITech has worked with local partners to use digital technologies to enhance transparency and participation in the election process.
In the 2014 edition, the site highlights observer deployment shared by Afghan groups with the public. This enables stakeholders to understand which regions of the country will be covered by trained citizen monitors. In addition, polling center location and district aggregation data highlights the relationships between polling center locations and observer group coverage. As before, all data is available for download.
I just returned from the International Studies Association conference in Toronto, Canada where thousands of scholars from around the world gathered to discuss virtually every topic imaginable related to international affairs. I presented two papers on two separate panels. Below is a topline summary of one paper and its substantive findings and relevant criticism from a panel of experts. This paper will be published in the academic journal “Democracy and Security” in a forthcoming edition.
Are national security issues in cyberspace were spurring states to “arm” themselves with cyber tools, capabilities, and laws to combat one another? And if states are arming themselves what does this mean for human and democracy rights activists with substantially fewer resources than nation states?
With a limited sample I built a case for the existence of a security dilemma in cyberspace and then attempted to establish a correlation between increases in cyber capabilities, tools and legal and regulatory developments to the oppression of state actors. What might you ask is the security dilemma? The definition of the security dilemma comes from Robert Jervis who states: “many of the means by which a state tries to increase its security decrease the security of others.” The security dilemma is the central thesis of realist international politics as outlined by Hans Morgenthau, Kenneth Waltz, John Mearsheimer, and others. To survive, states must establish and maintain their relative power positions in the context of other states. Figure 1 & 2 below illustrate the security dilemma as it is developed in cyberspace. READ MORE »
Late yesterday, Brazil’s House of Representatives passed the Marco Civil, a bill aimed at guaranteeing civil rights in the use of the Internet in Brazil. Specifically, it aims to protect privacy rights, net neutrality, safeharbors for internet service providers and online service providers, open government, and setting forth that access to the internet is a requisite to the exercise for civic rights.
The drafting of the Civil Marco Internet in Brazil began in 2009 through a collaborative effort between the Office of Legislative Affairs of the Ministry of Justice, in partnership with the School of Law of the Rio de Janeiro at the Getulio Vargas. Citizen feedback on this bill (between November 2009 and June 2010) was received through social media by more than 2000 contributions of internet users across the country. (More here about the process). READ MORE »
Turkey blocked Twitter. If you happen to have been on vacation over the weekend or haven’t had a chance to check out the newspaper in a few days, The Washington Post and Reuters both have good write ups on the potential political fallout of this Twitter block as well as some background information on the situation. The interesting thing, as noted in the Washington Post article, is that this “restriction” has had little effect on Twitter chatter within the country. In fact, in the aftermath of discovering that they were no longer able to access Twitter, tweets spiked to 138 percent of the normal posting rate, an ironic feat in light of the ban. This statistic begs the question, “How are Turks tweeting, and tweeting rapidly, and about a Twitter ban?”
Well, the answer is simple and not so simple. Turkey has faced routine website blocking for the better part of the last decade, most notably the 2008 restriction of access to Youtube (which was in effect for 2 years). By now, most Turks, especially the younger generation, are well acquainted with the various measures for circumventing such restrictions. In case you are not, here are a few of the ways to access Twitter in the event of a block.
On March 20th, Twitter sent out a tweet instructing Turks how they could tweet via SMS on both Vodafone and Turkcell networks. SMS tweets are popular in areas with limited access to internet data, but in this case the service is proving to be multi-functional. Users can also receive tweets from friends that the user designates they would like to receive mobile tweets from. Obviously Twitter via SMS lacks much of the user experience of the broader Twitter app and website, but it still proves to be an effective work around.
Over the past few years, numerous examples in our everyday life have surfaced on how crowdsourcing & mapping data have helped improve delivery of public services. From, Bostwana Speaks to OpenIDEO, we have all grown to love data on maps and the power of aggregating data from citizens. In fact, we at @NDITech are big fans of mapping and data analysis, which we have leveraged to build a couple of Incredibly CoolTools (yes, that’s a play on ICT) that we like to brag about...once in a while. READ MORE »
Is true mobile phone security a lost cause? With the increasing popularity of mobile messaging applications with weak security practices, the escalation of sim card registration requirements, and the nearly antiquated legal definitions of the ways that mobile phones are used by citizens, securing mobile phone communications is a multi-faceted problem.
I’ve done mobile security trainings for a number of years now. And one of the biggest challenges that emerges with thinking through mobile security is all of the different areas where threats can emerge: the technical infrastructure of GSM networks, the personal information that’s needed to obtain a sim card, the location tracking capabilities of phones, and the list goes on.
During RightsCon, I had the opportunity to chat with the following rockstars about the current state of mobile security and what can be done to make improvements:
Recent news out of Malawi has focused on the President dissolving her cabinet in the wake of arrests of several officials on suspicion of stealing state funds. The “cashgate” corruption scandal highlights the importance of accountability, and suggests an opportunity for citizens to play a key role. In this tense environment, the Malawi Electoral Support Network (MESN) plans to evaluate the conduct of the elections by the Malawi Election Commission (MEC). MESN is a network of civil society organizations working on democratic governance and elections.
An important component of that evaluation is the attention that MESN will pay to data collection and observer management. We’ve discussed many times the importance of high quality data in election monitoring, here.
Successful implementation of a common methodology includes preparing materials, staff, and tools. In order to keep costs low, and quality high, MESN has taken a simple and effective approach to communicating with their observers, and collecting and digitizing their data. Addressing key questions of cost (can users afford to keep the system running?) and capacity (does the organization understand how to administer and fix the system?) MESN is utilizing two tools in tandem: an SMS gateway called Telerivet, and Google Docs.READ MORE »
Last friday I was gatecrashing the Investigative Reporters and Editors Computer-Aided Reporting conference up in Baltimore. Super cool conference; I’ll write it up more generally later. I was asked to share a bit about NDI’s perspective from the field on how we work with political activists and citizen journalists to be aware of the risks they face when using the internet for organizing or communications.
Sometimes in life it’s hard to know what to say (a buddy’s unsuitable engagement, a breakup convo, comments on a friend’s poor artistic performance) and one of them for me are 10-minute digital security discussions. You can’t dive into the details of a complicated tool like GPG. You can scare the pants off of them, but playing dead is not a valid defense mechanism online. So we tag-teamed it. Susan started things off with a quick “how the internet works” - and therefore where you can be attacked - while Jennifer focused on some core software of use in newsrooms like Tor, password managers and Cryptocat.
I decided to take a slightly different tack and talk about really boring stuff. Seems like a presentation winner, right? READ MORE »
Last Tuesday, NDI was lucky enough to hope Anders Pederson to talk about Open Knowledge Foundation’s new project, OpenSpending.org. Understanding how governments spend money is important; It affects the lives of citizens. Governments often claim they spend money “on behalf” of their citizens without any real monitoring of exactly where the money goes once it leaves taxpayer pockets. Perhaps your government announced an increase in spending on education, a position you supported, as part of their election campaign. However, without open and easy access to government spending it is almost impossible to know if that promise was followed through on. READ MORE »
There is no shortage of news about Turkey in the press recently. Between Gezi park protests last summer, and a currently unfolding corruption case, Turkish democracy is a hot topic. Last week Freedom House released a special report on Turkey entitled “Democracy in Crisis: Corruption, Media, and Power in Turkey” with the central finding being that, “Turkey’s government is improperly using its leverage over media to limit public debate about government actions and punish journalists and media owners who dispute government claims, deepening the country’s political and social polarization.” READ MORE »
How do people under authoritarian regimes become politically aware? Does social media influence political awareness? And does social media really help to undermine authoritarian regimes? These are the questions raised in an article in the British Journal of Political Science. Authors Ora John Reuter and David Szankonyi examine the role of social media and political awareness under authoritarian regimes and provide some fascinating analysis.
The authors led a survey of 1,600 adults conducted following the 2011 Russian parliamentary elections. Their study is particularly interesting because although social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are growing in ubiquity around the world, some non-democratic regimes such as Russia and China have heavily state influenced social media platforms such as vKontakte and Odnoklassniki in Russia.
The authors reviewed the relevant literature across political science on the influence of social media on political awareness, noting an unsurprising muddle of contradictions. Much of the “disharmony” in the literature draws form the inability for any causal relationships between the use of social or “new media” and political change. READ MORE »
As we all know, Twitter is a platform for creating and sharing short bursts of information instantly and without borders. Scholars have taken note and analyze Twitter data to “take the pulse” of society. Since 2010 a number of studies have tried to assess the viability of Twitter as a substitute for traditional electoral prediction methods. They have ranged from theoretical works to data analysis. These studies have been inspired by the lure of access to real-time information and the ease of collecting this data.
In recent study, Daniel Gayo-Avello of the University of Oviedo in Spain examined a number of previous attempts at predicting elections using Twitter data. The author conducted a meta analysis of fifteen prior studies to analyse whether Twitter data can be used to predict election results. He found that the 'presumed predictive power regarding electoral prediction has been somewhat exaggerated: although social media may provide a glimpse on electoral outcomes current research does not provide strong evidence to support it can currently replace traditional polls."READ MORE »
Last week, many of China’s major websites were inaccessible for nearly 24 hours to Chinese internet users. Chinese users trying to reach a range of websites ending in .com were re-routed instead to an IP address owned by Dynamic Internet Technology, which is the provider of the circumvention tool Freegate. DIT has been closely affiliated with the Falun Gong, a religious organization banned in China.
GreatFire.org, which examines Chinese censorship, has a detailed report investigating this outage, illuminating that all attempts within China to visit popular websites such as Sina Weibo, Baidu, etc. would be incorrectly re-routed to 220.127.116.11 (an IP address in Wyoming).
While state news agency Xinhua raised the possibility of hacking, and CNNIC attributed the breakdown to a "root server for top-level domain names", others blame the breakdown on a failure of the Great Firewall. As Chinese internet censorship expert Xiao Qiang states to Reuters, "It all points to the Great Firewall, because that's where it can simultaneously influence DNS resolutions of all the different networks (in China). But how that happened or why that happened we're not sure. It's definitely not the Great Firewall's normal behavior."
Proper implementation of a DNS to match the domain name and the IP address of a website or web service is critical to ensuring that the Internet functions properly. As GreatFire points out, DNS poisoning, or hijacking of DNS routing to send a visitor to an incorrect domain name or IP address, is a technique deployed by the Great Firewall to render ‘blacklist’ websites inaccessible. READ MORE »
It is fascinating to see how the role of social media in political dissent is changing in front of our very eyes, this time in China. Sina Weibo, the wildly popular microblogging platform used by dissidents and activists, might be supplanted by other platforms like Weixin, a more private chat application that now has 270 million active users and is growing rapidly. Weibo, used by influential activists who have large reach to millions of others is also heavily censored and has been reported to have lost users.
Weibo has more than 600 million users, amounting to an astonishing 30% utilization by Internet users in China. There are more than 100 million messages posted on Weibo every day, making the platform a fertile ground for commentary on all matters. As a colleague on our Asia team recently said: "Online social media has given us the largest depository of unsolicited public opinion in human history. Now a report from the China Internet Network Information Center (not an unbiased outfit as it's backed by the Chinese government) reports that Weibo's user base is decreasing.
The report suggests that users are migrating to Weixin instead. Weixin is owned by Tencent Holdings, which, similar to Sino Weibo, also has close ties to the government. According to CNNIC, Weibo users dropped by 9% from a year ago. Meanwhile, Weixin or WeChat as it is known outside of China, added 64.4 million new users last year, especially among the younger demographics.
One reason for the shift may be the changing Chinese consumer behavior that is increasingly migrating from PCs to social networks optimized for smartphones, particularly among young people. Weixin saw a 1,201% increase in usage among youth in the first three quarters of 2013 alone. Under the brand WeChat, the app is also far more global with a userbase of 100 million outside of China.
Ukraine is a beautiful and diverse country that straddles the border between Europe and Asia. From 2005 through 2007 I lived in Eastern Ukraine. During that time I became acutely aware of the importance of mobile technology in everyday life. Landline telephones in the places I lived were rare, and when I wanted to connect to the Internet, make calls, meet up with friends or any number of things I would rely on my mobile phone. Ukraine's mobile pentration is now near 90%, according to recent data, and mobile Internet access is rapidly increasing.
It is therefore not a great surprise that mobile phones have been an integral part of the organization and coordination of protests in Ukraine since the Orange revolution and now during the current Ukrainian Protests that started in late November 2013.
However, this week government manipulation of mobile tech has sent shockwaves across the Internet with a highly documented Orwellian form of tracking of protesters. A text that made its way around my friends and family living in Ukraine and that was widely reported on by international media ominously stated: "You were identified as a participant of in a mass disturbance". It demonstrates a use of technology to tag individuals easily possible but rarely so openly demonstrated.
It makes evident the escalation in the use of technology to curb protests, and marks a dangerous turning point for individuals using mobile phones as a tool for mobilization. Tracking people by location with their mobile phones is not difficult as outlined in this article on Mashable. In this case, there was either a request by the government ffrom the mobile providers for a tower dump (something the providers in Ukraine deny) for cell phone numbers in a certain location that connected to the towers in that area, or a rogue base station set up in the same vincity that essentially 'catches' the relevant information when a phone nearby tries to connect to that rogue tower (which, to a cell phone, looks like any other tower.)
Our last RootsCamp ‘13 round-up identified free tools to maximize voice, and to collect and analyze social and mobile data. Each tool was quite specific in its purpose and execution. Beyond these, the attendees (vendors and activists alike) discussed a broader set of platforms (suites) that attempt to manage people and data in a way that allow for a variety of campaign and advocacy activities including petitions, member engagement, mobilization, etc. As before, find a round-up of the best-of-breed at the conference below. Send any of your own suggestions, and we'll update the list.
NGP VAN is the largest provider of political data management tools for progressives in the US. With it’s recent purchase of NationalField, which builds tools for managing field staff and volunteers, they provide an integrated platform of fundraising, organizing, new media, and social networking products.
NationBuilder is billed as “Political campaign software starting at $19/mo”, NationBuilder has developed an impressive set of online tools for campaigns including websites, voter databases, fundraising tools, and communications tools. Nationbuilder is looking to internationalize its platform. READ MORE »
On December 17, the presidency of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies passed a resolution that creates a permanent Laboratório Ráquer or “Hacker Lab” inside the Chamber — a global first. The full text of the resolution in Portuguese is here. The resolution mandates the creation of a physical space at the Chamber that is “open for access and use by any citizen, especially programmers and software developers, members of parliament and other public workers, where they can utilize public data in a collaborative fashion for actions that enhance citizenship.”
The winner was Meu Congress, a website that allows citizens to track the activities of their elected representatives, and monitor their expenses. Runner-ups included Monitora, Brasil!, an Android application that allows users to track proposed bills, attendance and the Twitter feeds of members; and Deliberatório, an online card game that simulates the deliberation of bills in the Chamber of Deputies.
The hackathon engaged the software developers directly with members and staff of the Chamber of Deputies, including the Chamber’s President, Henrique Eduardo Alves. Hackathon organizer Pedro Markun of Transparencia Hacker made a formal proposal to the President of the Chamber for a permanent outpost, where, as Markun said in an email, “we could hack from inside the leviathan’s belly.” The Chamber’s Director-General has established nine staff positions for the Hacker Lab under the leadership of the Cristiano Ferri Faria, who spoke with me about the new project.
If the NSA revelations by Edward Snowden didn’t impress you and you think, “my country is small and has no desire to surveil me”, or you think, “but I don’t do anything wrong and have nothing to hide,” then this post should serve as a wakeup call to take digital security seriously. Reporters Without Borders has a barometer on its website listing the current status of citizens on the net, and of journalists whom the organization monitors around the world. As of today there are 177 journalists imprisoned worldwide and 166 netizens such as bloggers and people who use Facebook and Twitter for social advoacy.
Digital hygiene is like personal hygiene: once you start doing it it becomes second nature and you’re better off. Bad digital hygiene, like not brushing your teeth, can lead to gunk. Whereas the gunk in your teeth from failing to brush regularly will put you in the dentist’s chair, the gunk from failing to protect your mobile phone or computer could land you in jail and, sometimes worse, compromise the security of friends and colleagues (and sources) around you with whom you communicate. It could be inadvertently opened emails, that link you clicked but that didn’t go anywhere, or my favorite one from a few years back, that Skype pop-up offering to show you naked photos of your co-worker. The Internet is a cesspool of viruses, trojans, backdoors, worms, and more and whether you realize it or not every day you wade through it to get to the content you really want. READ MORE »
Roots Camp 13 is over. This buzzy unconference of field organizers, digital directors, data geeks, and political wonks continues to be an intriguing amalgam of progressive activists growing skills, sharing knowledge, and building networks.
Many fascinating conversations tackled proactive and reactive messaging, mobile advocacy, testing and analytics, data-driven politicking, among others. The tweet stream and archive can be found at #roots13, and here's an initial review by David Weigel on Slate.
Striking the fancy of our @nditech team were the plethora of free online organizing tools that were highlighted throughout the sessions. I’ve posted a round-up of the best-of-breed below. Send any of your own suggestions, and we'll update the list.
Maximizing Your Voice (Message Distribution)READ MORE »
Please join NDI and the OpenGov Hub for a conversation with recipients of NDI's 2013 Democracy Award this Wednesday, December 11 at 12-2 pm in NDI's office in Washington. NDI is honoring this year a stellar group of Civic Innovators from around the world. We wanted to recognize an emerging class of creative and entrepreneurial individuals who are using technology to help advance and improve democracy in the digital age.
We're pleased to feature a number of the award winners in a conversation about the nature of civic innovation and its implications for democracy around the world and hope you can join us! Please register hereREAD MORE »
Data-driven decisionmaking has a lovely alliterative sound. It also makes a lot of sense in the international development world - shouldn’t we have good, solid information to help shape the choice of program activities?
Easier said than done, regrettably. Our team has been mulling about how we can use concepts from randomized control trials - RCTs - to get information on what works and what doesn’t in NDI’s tech4dem work. It is particularly important with new technologies that we’re often pushing because often there’s not enough of a track record for these shiny new tools or approaches to determine if they are effective.
In a a randomized control trial, you need five basic things: READ MORE »