SECURITY & COOPERATION IN EUROPE:
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION
TWITTER AGAINST TYRANTS:
NEW MEDIA IN AUTHORITARIAN REGIMES
DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS,
NYU INTERACTIVE TELECOM PROGRAM
YAHOO! FELLOW, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY;
CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, FOREIGN POLICY
CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER,
NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTE
GLOBAL INTERNET FREEDOM CONSORTIUM
THE HEARING WAS HELD FROM 2:00 P.M. TO 3:54 P.M. IN 1539 LONGWORTH HOUSE OFFICE
BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C., [KYLE PARKER, POLICY ADVISOR FOR EURASIA, CSCE],
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2009
KYLE PARKER: Folks, we’re going to go ahead and start. Thank you for coming
to today’s briefing, today’s Helsinki Commission briefing on new media in
authoritarian regimes. I apologize for starting late – we are expecting the
possible presence of some of our commissioners, so if they do, we’ll turn the
floor over to them. This is a briefing it’s being transcribed and I think
televised on the HouseNet. Unlike an official hearing, we will be taking
questions from the audience, so as you listen to the presentations please be
thinking about good questions so we can have a good, lively, informative and
somewhat informal conversation today, and that also goes for the panelists. We
can certainly talk amongst the panel as well.
I’m not going to spend too much time introducing the topic. The Helsinki
Commission is an organization going back to 1976. We monitor the
implementation of the Helsinki Accords, the Helsinki Final Act across 56
participating states. The United States is one, all of Central Asia, Europe,
Canada as well. And one of the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the act is of
course the freedom of media, and of course it’s often through that, either
freedom of media or freedom of speech, freedom to communicate, that we learn of
other infringements or other issues, be it religious freedom or freedom of
assembly. Obviously, if you don’t have a telephone or a newspaper or an
e-mail, it’s hard to hear about those things.
Another thing we do quite often is election observation; in this past year, two
very prominent cases, Moldova and Iran, where technology such as Twitter played
quite a major role. And I’m happy to have Sen. Brownback. Sen. Brownback,
ladies and gentleman. Take a seat.
SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R-KA): Sorry to come in late, I apologize about that.
MR. PARKER: No problem, no problem. (Inaudible, off mike.)
SEN. BROWNBACK: If you don’t mind letting me make a quick statement. I
apologize to people for arriving late on a very important topic, and my
apologies for doing it. I have a brief opening statement I’d like to make and
then hear the panel presentation. I’m delighted to see this hearing taking
place. I think we saw this demonstrated in real-live form in the Iranian
elections and the follow-up afterwards, of how Twitter turned against the
tyrants in Tehran.
Chairman, I want to thank the committee and the commission for holding this
very important and timely hearing on the crucial role that new media plays and
will continue to play in closed authoritarian societies. As we approach the
20th anniversary of the breaking of the Berlin Wall, we must gather our
strength and commit ourselves to finding ways to tear down the new walls of the
21st century, the cyber-walls, the electronic censorship technology used by
tyrants to repress the free expression of millions, millions around the world.
I look forward to learning from these distinguished panelists how we can move
forward on this issue.
I’d first say a quick word about the freedom of information, and specifically
Internet freedom. If information is the adrenaline of democracy, then our
Internet-driven society is on high endorphins. Individual citizens have never
before had so much access to real-time political, economic and social
information affecting their lives, and generally this has led to increased
accountability and better outcomes. Recently, we’ve seen the other side of the
information spectrum. In Iran, this past summer, the real battle took place
and is still taking place on blogs, Facebook and Twitter as Iranians struggle
to tell their story while the regime desperately tries to block access to the
Internet. The same was true for the Burmese opposition in 2007, where the
junta struggled to contain the fallout from its bloody crackdown. Before that,
text messaging played a crucial role in the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine.
One thing is clear: While physical brutality will always be the tool of
oppressors, 21st century authoritarianism has already been defined by the
lengths to which autocrats will go to limit online access to information. The
Iranian dictatorship, the Chinese Communist Party, the Burmese junta, the
Castro regime and other regimes worldwide all derive a large share of its power
through media suppression and rigorous Internet censorship.
Before we discuss how to tackle this problem, I think we must understand its
cause. Why do regimes monitor, limit or even block the use of the Internet?
Surely allowing open use of the Internet, a modest investment, would make life
for residents of these societies more bearable and more efficient. And the
answer, clearly, on the regime’s parts is control and survival. Free and open
access of the Internet would allow unfettered criticism of regimes that sustain
themselves only by forcibly perpetuating the appearance of perfection. These
dictators not only shield their population from their own brutality but also
block information about the basic freedoms enjoyed by millions worldwide.
Leaders of these oppressive regimes disdain criticism and challenge because it
pushes back against this fiction of success they pedal to the masses. As the
fiction crumbles, their grab on power dissolves. Like with the Polish
Solidarity Movement, the defiance of the people eventually cracked the defiance
of the government. This is why we must focus our efforts on promoting the
freedom of information, specifically Internet freedom. As individual
information exchanges become effortless through wireless communications,
authoritarian regimes must devote ever-more resources to maintain their
electronic wall. If information is power, then it is time to help bring the
power to the people.
We must ensure that all closed-society residents have free and open access to
the Internet. This is the surest and most cost-effective way to jumpstart
liberty. Indeed, the more the oppressed see and understand the real nature of
their regime and the more they share with the outside world, the more power
they will have to determine their own future. This is a key effort on our part
to open up the Internet to regimes and to the people in these regimes that
suppress their action and their access to it.
So it’s my hope that hearings like this, today, will help us in getting funding
for groups that provide access to Internet, to Twitter, to Facebook, to other
social media, that we can provide that and help these, in many cases, very
difficult operations that people are putting together on private dollars to
open up the Internet to people that don’t have access to it themselves. So I
hope that we can do that. I want to thank the panel very much for allowing me
to come in a little bit late and put forward that statement, and I look forward
to hearing some of the comments from other individuals here.
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Senator. We can proceed with the panel, starting with
Daniel Calingaert, deputy director of programs at Freedom House, and I might
add that the – more extensive biographies should be on the table outside and
will be posted on our Web site, but we’ll just – given the fact that we have
five panelists, we’ll go ahead and start with the discussion. So Daniel,
DANIEL CALINGAERT: Yes, thank you. Thank you, Kyle, and many thanks to the
commission for inviting me, and Sen. Brownback, we very much appreciate your
interest and leadership on this issue. New media has created significant
opportunities for advancing freedom in countries ruled by authoritarian
regimes. It has expanded the space for free expression and facilitated civic
activism. But authoritarian regimes have pushed back. They have restricted
Internet freedom in a variety of ways, and they are likely to further limit the
space for free expression and civic activism on the Internet unless the U.S.
government works proactively and vigorously to keep that space open.
The impact of digital media on authoritarian regimes was evident in Iran
following the rigged presidential election of June 12th. Digital media made
important contributions to the Green movement of post-election protests. The
movement’s leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, communicates to Iranians primarily
through his blog and Facebook. Protests are announced and organized largely
via the Internet, and images of police crackdowns and of defiance by protestors
often are transmitted across Iran and to the outside world through Facebook and
Twitter with the help of anti-censorship technology.
The Green movement was sparked by public anger over the blatant electoral fraud
committed by supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but it is kept alive
in large part by the use of new media. Citizens in the former Soviet Union
have used new media to assert their rights and to challenge abuses of power.
In Russia, for example, the Internet was the primary means for drawing
attention to fraud in this month’s local elections. When observers in the
Moscow district of Zyablikovo found a group of individuals hired to vote for
United Russia multiple times, they used Twitter and Livejournal blogs to spread
the news immediately and to publish photos of the violators.
A member of that district’s electoral commission, Andre Klukyn (ph) gave an
online interview to describe in detail the plan behind this fraud. The
interview was widely viewed on Russian YouTube and covered by several
traditional media outlets. Another group of observers published video footage
of a polling-station chairman in the city of Azov as he tried to mix fraudulent
ballots which had already been filled in for United Russia with legitimate
ballots. This video became a hit in the Russian blogosphere and prompted a
criminal investigation of the polling-station chairman. Digital media spread
the news of voter fraud in Russia’s local elections and contributed to a
real-world response. The news triggered a public demonstration on October 12th
in Moscow’s Pushkin Square and prompted all three opposition parties to walk
out of Parliament in protest.
In Belarus, traditional media is highly restricted. In the Freedom House
ratings of freedom in the press, Belarus is near the bottom – it’s ranked 188th
out of 195 countries. But the Internet actually provides extensive space for
free expression and activism. Most Internet users in Belarus turn to non-state
sources for news. In fact, the top – of the top 20 news and information Web
sites, only three are state-run sites, 12 are independent or pro-opposition and
the rest focus on sports or other non-political subjects.
I can also point to another example of online activism in Kazakhstan, where
there was a new law passed in July to restrict the Internet, and while that law
was being considered, a local free-speech group, Adil Soz, organized an online
campaign that used blogs and Facebook and Twitter to mobilize opposition to the
bill. And there was also, obviously, international criticism of the bill and
criticism in other places in Kazakhstan. The bill eventually passed, but one
of the key provisions, which would have given prosecutors the authority to
suspend media outlets without a court order, that provision was removed from
the law. So I think the online campaign had some effect.
While new media plays an important role in expanding free expression and
facilitating citizen engagement, it does not drive political change. New media
alone cannot undermine authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian regimes in the
former Soviet republics and elsewhere continue to repress their citizens, and
this repression extends to digital media. In Russia, for example, Internet
freedom has declined significantly in recent years, as bloggers have become
subject to hacker attacks, legal prosecution and physical violence. Although
there is no technical filtering in Russia, officials often make phone calls to
pressure web hosts or Internet service providers to remove unwanted content.
The director of a leading hosting company, Master Host, admitted that his
company gets about 100 requests a day to remove content from inconvenient –
so-called “inconvenient” Web sites.
In Belarus, authorities conduct surveillance on Internet users, and they
require cyber cafés to register each user’s browsing history. Kazakhstan’s
government, as mentioned before, introduced a law in July to regulate, but
really to restrict, the Internet, and this law makes all forms of Internet
content, whether Web sites, blogs, chat rooms, subject to the same restrictions
that are in place for traditional media.
The restrictions on the Internet are likely to increase unless citizens in
Russia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere struggle to keep the Internet open, and this
struggle requires U.S. support. Authoritarian regimes use a variety of methods
to limit online freedom of expression. The United States therefore has to
respond in multiple ways. This response should consist of, first, preventing
the use of U.S. technology in violations of Internet user’s rights, second,
building effective coalitions among democratic governments in defense of
Internet freedom. Third is investing in technology to circumvent censorship
and strengthen user privacy and fourth, but certainly not least, supporting
indigenous efforts in the country’s that are – where the Internet is
restricted, supporting their efforts to expand the space for free expression
The Internet is a medium for communication. Its impact in authoritarian
regimes ultimately depends less on the medium itself than on the messages it
conveys and on the messengers who use it to drive progress towards democracy.
Therefore, we should not only invest in anti-censorship technology, but also
support the creation and distribution of pro-democracy content and back the
courageous and creative activists in repressive environments who are struggling
to bring about political change. Thank you.
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Daniel. We will now move onto Nathan Frietas, who is
adjunct professor at NYU, interactive telecom program and leading protest
software developer. Nathan?
NATHAN FRIETAS: I’m going to try to walk the walk and use my mobile phone. So
I greatly appreciate the opportunity to participate in this hearing, Sen.
Brownback, the chairman of the commission.
For me, I come as a representative of the countless technology and new media
advocates who believe that the most amazing and groundbreaking innovations of
our generation should be used for more than the acquisition of wealth or
distraction or entertainment, but should be used to really do good in the world.
I’m also a long-time member and former board chair of the international group,
Students for a Free Tibet – working with Lhadon Tetong and Tenzin Dorje. What
I’ll share with you today is some of my experiences as an
activist-practitioner, on the ground, employing these technologies both in the
U.S. and abroad.
A bit of history on Twitter – the roots of this new media technology wave and
specifically, Twitter, began in 2004 with an open source Web service called
TXTmob. TXTmob was developed by MIT’s Institute for Applied Autonomy and used
at the 2004 DNC and RNC conventions, specifically, RNC in New York. I was part
of a team that utilized this to broadcast tens of thousands of messages to
thousands of people on the street to let them know what was going on, what the
breaking news was.
Later this same technology was used in the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine to
create flash mobs and coordinate sit-ins. In 2005, two of my colleagues who
worked with TXTmob were employed by the company that became Twitter. And they
began showing this technology around the office to see the power of
short-message broadcasting. So Twitter was born out of an activist movement,
so it’s no surprise that it’s come full circle and is being used that way again.
My specific area of work is focused on Asia, specifically China, Tibet and
India. I’ve been employed in Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley. I developed
patented technology and was a student at the University of California, where I
worked on DARPA and NSF-funded research. So I’m a product of the both
government-funded and private-funded efforts to develop new technologies. Now,
I’m fortunate to be teaching at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program,
the course titled: “Social Activism using Mobile Technology.”
This is a one of the first of its time courses and I believe more education
opportunities like this should be given to students to understand the
alternative opportunities they have coming out of school. My path might seem
novel, but it comes from a long history of geeks and nerds and engineers who
want to apply their skills to helping their country and their community.
During the Second World War and the Cold War, inventors, mathematicians used
the first digital computers to play a critical role in the Allies’ efforts to
stay in front of the Axis.
During the Civil Rights movement the use of telephones, telegraphs and
traditional social networks in churches and universities created a foundation
to mobilize supporters throughout the South. And in recent years, hackers,
nerds and geeks like myself have gravitated towards the social justice,
environmental and human rights movements.
So the idea of two guys in a garage in Silicon Valley has translated into teams
of activists around the world using Skype, Facebook and Twitter to innovate and
develop new systems to use the same grassroots organizing and non-violence
techniques that have come from Gandhi, but in a new era.
We already mentioned Burma and I believe it will come up. The fascinating
thing about what happened in Burma in 2007 was the emergence of the video
journalist. Someone with a very cheap digital camera broadcasting their
message using the Internet: instant messaging, FTP file transfer – and ending
up on the BBC. So the official view – and this is, sort of, the early days of
YouTube and they didn’t use that. The idea that they could do that to cover
their movement and even though the revolution, the Saffron Revolution, wasn’t
successful, the impact they left in the world of activism about the possibility
was very successful.
A similar model is being used in Iraq through a video channel called Alive in
Baghdad which, what that does, is represent an alternative option for Iraqis to
express themselves and their situation rather than turn to violence. The power
of the moving image is unavoidable. And with the low cost of distributing
video online, the ability to easily stream it live from mobile phones or
satellite data networks means that its reach and impact has come to rival
In many cases, authoritarian states’ powers prove too formidable for new media
technology. We saw this with Tibet in the uprisings last March. The only view
that the world had of the uprising was from the Chinese state media. Internet
was cut off, phone was cut off, reporters from around the world were blocked
from accessing an area the size of Texas. So in that case, the type of
infrastructure that China has been able to put in place is overwhelming.
And working with American companies such that they do not provide the
technology to censor, filter, surveil, block is an important outcome that I
would like to see from these discussions. The other way technology has been
used for activism is when outsiders move into a country – activists, human
rights workers, fair election advocates – to use technology in a place that
allows them to be more efficient.
So election monitoring, or for instance, last year during the Beijing Olympics
when all protest was not allowed, over 70 activists traveled there with
camera-phones, small portable computers, high-definition video cameras – and
were able to protest and document their work – more on that in my statement in
Finally, last year during the presidential election, I worked on a project
called Twitter Vote Report. This was a nationwide Web 2.0-style project for
election monitoring that allowed people using SMS, iPhones or standard
telephone in English or Spanish to report in problems that they had at the
polling place. We had a real-time Google Map, a real-time alerting system for
any delays or ballot issues. That was a very successful project that’s being
replicated in Afghanistan, recently, and elsewhere.
So as you can tell, I’m a very enthusiastic and active participant in the use
of new media tools for social good. However, the use of these tools brings
serious risk to the user, their friends, family and broader movement. As a
friend of mine said, you cannot Twitter your way out bludgeoning by security
goons. Mobile phones are unique identifiers that track their user. Laptop
computers are full of incriminating documents. Digital viruses deliver
powerful espionage tools such as GhostNet. One slip and your entire e-mail box
and social network can be revealed.
So we need to spend more time focusing on protecting activists, protecting
these generations that take 20 years to rebuild if they’re decimated. And
while the free world is enamored of these tools and we’re here with this
hearing, our own federal, state and local law enforcement are often quite
fearful of their use at home. So just recently, Elliot Madison, a 41-year-old
social worker, was arrested in Pittsburgh and charged with hindering
apprehension for prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility and
possession of instruments of crime.
He was found with a computer and was using Twitter. This is a contradiction
that we must address and come to term with. We do want to protect our homeland
from violent terrorists and we do want to apply these tools fairly. But we
need to make sure that we understand their impact on the domestic front.
So there are constructive steps that we can take. We continue to support the
freedom of media and extend that to the conduits of the Internet and mobile
phone in which they operate. We should develop policy and programs that
recognize and fund education and the development of new software tools. We
should also guide and motivate the corporation start-ups and venture
capitalists who build these amazing technologies.
I’m happy for tools like Twitter, that they can be used just as well to cover
the daily lives of Ashton and Demi or break the news of Michael Jackson’s
death. But the fact that they can be used to broadcast updates from the
streets of Iran or spread the news of political prisoners in Tibet being
executed is a very weighty obligation and responsibility that they’ve taken on.
And lastly, we need to look at embargoes of technology and understand that when
we embargo a country, we remove the possibility for the people that need these
tools the most to have access to them. Thank you very much and my full
statement’s in the paper.
SEN. BROWNBACK: I want to recognize Congressman Bob Aderholt has joined as
well. Bob, do you have a comment that you’d like to make?
REP. ROBERT ADERHOLT (R-AL): Thank you, Senator. No, I just want to say it’s
good to – very welcome this hearing today and glad to be here and to listen to
our experts on this issue. It’s an issue that certainly is, I think, the up
and coming issue of the day. So thank you for having the hearing today and
thanks everybody, pleased to be here.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Appreciate that. I’m going to have to slip out, shortly, for
another meeting. I think this is a very important issue and we’ve got some
funding coming forward in the appropriation bills to do some of the things that
are being talked about here. But the accumulation of a policy record, I think,
would be most helpful from the panelists and what you think it is that we ought
to be doing and what we ought to focus on – both in the appropriation process
and the authorization system. And so I welcome the record to be developed and
to be able to use that. And with that I’m going to turn it back to Kyle to run
the overall panel.
MR. PARKER: Thank you very much, Sen., for joining us today. And we will
continue with the discussion with Evgeny Morozov, who is yahoo! fellow at
Georgetown University and contributing editor to Foreign Policy Journal.
EVGENY MOROZOV: Hi. I’d like to thank the commission for convening a hearing
on such an important subject. While I share many of the recent enthusiasm
about the positive role that new media can play in opening up authoritarian
societies, I’m increasingly concerned with both how well some of the societies
have themselves managed to adapt to the Internet threat and how poorly some of
the digital activists, journalists and even some policymakers understand the
risks of trying to promote democracy via the Internet.
So let me outline some of my most pressing concerns today. First, you have to
remember that new media will power all political forces, not just the forces we
like. Many of the recent Western funding and media development efforts have
been aimed at creating what’s known as, new digital public spaces, on the
assumption that these new digital spaces would enable the nascent actors or
civil society to flourish on blogs, Twitter and social networks.
While this does sound reasonable in theory, in practice, we have to be prepared
that groups that are often anti-democratic, both their nature and rhetoric,
would probably benefit from existence of this net spaces as well. So in a
sense, promoting this new digital spaces entails similar risks to promoting
free elections. It’s quite possible we may not like the guys who win. For
example, research into the blogospheres in Egypt, Palestine, Russia suggest
that these organizations like Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and various groups of
Russian nationalists that are making the habits, use of blogs and social
networks, in particular, because they are blocked from access to traditional
spaces where they could operate.
So both support for promoting blogging and social networking may actually have
a lot of negative and unpleasant consequences as well. Second, we have to
realize that authoritarian governments themselves have developed extremely
sophisticated strategies to control cyberspace and often those go beyond
censorship. It’s a mistake to believe that these governments wouldn’t be able
to manipulate these new public spaces with their own propaganda or use them to
their own advantage. Many authoritarian governments are already paying
bloggers and Internet commentators to spin the political discussions that they
do not like.
It varies from the Russian approach, where the government is cooperating with
several commercial start-ups which are creating ideological, social networking
and blogging sites that support the pro-Kremlin ideology. To the Chinese
approach, where the party has created a decentralized network of what’s come to
be known as 50 Cent Party, which is almost 300,000 people who are being paid to
leave comments on sites and blogs that the government doesn’t like and thus,
try to spin those discussions.
Even the Iranian clerics have been running blogging workshops, particularly
aimed at controlling religious discourse targeting women. And they’ve been
doing it, actually, since 2006, much before we began talking about the Twitter
revolution. Third, authoritarian governments are increasingly eager to build
short-term alliances with digital groups that sometimes their goals. For
example, one of the reasons why Russia has emerged as the most feared player in
the field of cyber warfare is because it always acts indirectly, usually by
relying on numerous, nimble, underground gangs of cyber criminals.
Most of the time those gangs perfect the art of stealing credit card details of
foreigners. But when the geopolitical pressures requires, they could be easily
mobilized to assist the state. Just think of the recent cyber components to
conflicts with Estonia and Georgia, with a communication networks of both
countries have them crippled. Arguably, the fact that these networks of
criminals who plan and execute these attacks rather than the government,
actually, leaves Kremlin and Moscow more space for maneuver. So we have to
Another example, which I think is equally disturbing, is recent attempts to try
to legitimize some of the Internet control by involving bloggers and Internet
personalities themselves. For example, in the suggestion of the speaker of the
upper chamber of the Russian Parliament, Kremlin may soon be creating what’s
known as the blogger’s chamber, which will probably be another one of those
state-controlled fake representatives of the civil society that will invite
prominent Russian bloggers to set their own standards of what can and cannot be
discussed on Russian blogs and on the Russian Internet, in general.
That’s probably just another example where the supposed ceding of state power
would probably only reinforce the Kremlin’s control over the Internet. Fourth,
we do not fully understand how new media affects civic engagement. And we
don’t have to pretend that we do. We still assume that established unfettered
access to information is going to push people to learn the truths about human
rights abuses or the crimes of the governments and thus make them more likely
to become dissidents.
Most likely, lifting the censorship lid, at least in the short term, would
result in people using this opportunity to fill in other gaps in their
information vacuum. Those may have to do with religion, culture, socializing
and so forth but not necessarily with political dissent. Political activism
and active citizenship would probably only come last in this pyramid of cyber
needs, if you will.
The creators of tools like Syphon (ph) and Tor which do allow anonymized access
to the Web, often report that many users in authoritarian states actually use
those tools to download pornography and access sites which that government
doesn’t want them to access – not necessarily political ones.
In fact, there is a growing risk that hundreds and thousands of this digital
natives in these countries would actually be sucked into this endless cycle of
entertainment, rather than have their political commitment increase and full
political life. Finally, what I should mention is that current U.S. government
restrictions on the export of technology to sanctioned countries often actually
thwart and impede the adoption of new media technologies.
I would like to point out that the current sanctions against governments like
Cuba, Iran, North Korea and several others make it significantly difficult for
other ordinary citizens, as well as well established activists and NGOs, to
take full advantage of the opportunities that the Internet and social media
offers. American technology companies face fairly complicated process of
obtaining and renewing licenses and waivers to be able to do export their
technology to the sanctioned countries.
The rules are not 100 percent clear and some technology companies decide not to
take any risks and withdraw from this market altogether. For example, some
American hosting companies refuse to deal with customers from Zimbabwe or
Belarus or Iran altogether. And this inevitably leads to implicit censorship,
where activist groups that actually supported and often recognized by the U.S.
government have to justify their activities to Web administrators of these
companies. So I think I would stop here and you can turn to my full paper. I
have two more additional points in it. Thank you.
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Evgeny. We will now move on to Chris Spence who is
chief technology officer the National Democratic Institute. Chris, your
CHRIS SPENCE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the
commission. Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the role of new media
in authoritarian states. For the last 15 years, NDI has employed technologies
as components of many of our democracy strengthening programs. A wide range of
technologies and associated strategies have been used to support activists,
political parties, legislatures, women in politics and civic groups around the
world as the partners struggle to strengthen the democratic institutions in
their country, increased space for broad participation in political life and
safeguard their elections.
In this period we’ve been able to see the transformational potential of new
technologies applied to democratic development. The new media and mobile
technologies that have evolved over the last several years, while in many ways
still exploratory in their application to politics, have been put to
particularly good use in support of political campaigns and other forms of
But introduction of new media and other technologies should not be seen as a
panacea for democratic development nor goal in and of itself. These
technologies, paired with effective methodologies, can help organizations make
significant contributions toward advancing democratic process in authoritarian
Democratic development is a long-term commitment and a process. And effective
use of technologies by activists, political parties, candidates, civic groups
and other can support and even accelerate the process when the tools are well
used. Activists and civic groups have demonstrated remarkable ability to adapt
new technologies and when combined with traditional organizing principles, can
create moments of opportunity for democratic gains and enhanced channels for
political engagement in authoritarian states.
The key is not only to employ effective technologies but to pair the
technologies with strategies and approaches that are developed for the
political environment in which the technologies are being used. This approach
can help activists get out ahead of authoritarian regimes and make relative
gains and even game-changing democratic gains when periods are identified where
such innovations can rapidly be put to use.
While regimes make quickly catch up or clamp down by employing technologies and
other techniques to bolster their regimes, gains made during the gap between
early adoption and governmental response can have long-term, positive
consequences for democratic activists. The strengths of the early uses of new
media for activism have been in communication and in sharing information about
political developments. However, thus far, we would argue that the tools have
been less effectively utilized for the organizing required that can lead to
constructive political outcomes.
In some situations, information has been produced by citizens using innovative
new media tools that initiate the process of change, but the process is stalled
due to a lack of the organizations or institutions in the country required to
capture the interests and channel the process toward purposeful, strategic and
peaceful direct action. Assisting organizations in these countries to build
this capacity is an important component in leveraging new media tools toward
For example, those that followed the Iran election on Twitter may have felt
frustration as a fantastic amount of information was captured and posted on the
Internet during the election protests. But the pro-reform political
organizations and institutions in the country were limited in their ability to
channel the information and the energy of the crowds into a process that led to
a reform based outcome.
One of the institutions that are particularly well-suited to this role, but
often overlooked – sorry, I’ll let that –
MR. PARKER: It’ll pass. (Laughter.)
MR. SPENCE: How many – is that done?
MR. PARKER: Something to do with voting in the House.
MR. SPENCE: Great.
MR. PARKER: Please continue.
MR. SPENCE: One set of institutions that are particularly well-suited to this
role but are often overlooked in international circles are political parties.
Relatively little attention is paid to the important role that parties play in
aggregating citizen interests and channeling them into constructive and
peaceful means toward democratic reform. One area of opportunity, with
tremendous potential in countries where NDI works, is to provide more new media
technology assistance to political parties, especially in autocratic states
where the regime often has access to considerable state resources and controls
the organs of state communication.
NDI’s work with domestic election monitoring groups provides an illustrative
example of combining these new technologies with effective methodologies and
strong organizations toward impactful, political purposes. A common approach
to domestic election observing involves deploying citizen election observers,
with their mobile phones, to a representative sample of polling stations around
a country on Election Day.
These observers are trained to identify election irregularities or record
observations and results. The observers transfer information from paper
reporting reforms to a centralized national database via text message or voice
message. And the information is then aggregated and analyzed by the
organizational leadership to make an assessment of the overall quality of the
process, or accuracy of the election result. And then this information is
shared with the public.
This approach is a way to collect substantial evidence to detect and deter
fraud while building public trust in the process and adding legitimacy to
election if things go well. The uses of these new media tools and related
election activities have been very effective for our partners. Due to the
rapid and accurate reporting provided by the tools and the data-driven
analysis, this methodology has professionalized the way civic groups use
quantitative election information in real-time on election day. And has been
central to the ability of NDI partners to give the public a non-partisan view
on the quality of the election process in their country.
In many cases, we believe our partners have made contributions that have
prevented post-election violence or identified and raised important concerns
about the electoral process that have led to more democratic and peaceful
outcomes. The field of domestic election monitoring has improved significantly
in the last several years, partly due to improved methods and strategies and
certainly enabled by these new technologies and replicated by the role of
Citizen reporting is another method by which citizens have been able to
communicate various aspects of their Election Day experiences using new media
tools, usually text messages and Tweets. The information reported by citizens
is typically collected and made accessible to the public on a Web site or
online map in raw form. The value of this approach is to increase citizen
participation in the election process.
But to date, the challenge has been putting the information to good use. Tools
are being developed to evaluate the authenticity and filter this incoming
information so that organizations can then be prepared to put this powerful
crowd-sourcing methodology to work during election periods. However, even as
the tools and methods improve, citizen reporting promises to be a useful tool
towards some electoral goals but won’t be a substitute for election monitoring
in situations where assessing the overall legitimacy of an election is required.
The last component of success for activists struggling for democratic reform
involves the political environment in which they live and conduct their work.
The challenges faced by activists in autocratic nations are immense. And these
challenges are not only technical in nature but also legal and political.
Authoritarian regimes typically put in place legal mechanisms such as laws that
not only limit the activities of international and domestic NGOs and political
parties but also subversion and libel laws against citizens who try to express
their views and opinions online or publicly – laws against intermediaries of
communication such as ISPs and telecommunications providers and legalized
surveillance of citizens, including their online activity, and a wide range of
technologies that they use to enforce these legal tools, including the Internet
filtering and surveillance technologies that we’ll be discussing today.
International community can help to create a more enabling environment for
activists to utilize new media and tools in pursuit of democratic reform by
implementing programs that foster greater access and affordability to
technologies that seek more openness of these regimes, that advocate for
increased freedom of expression and that protect the rights of privacy of
citizens in these countries.
So to conclude and summarize, windows of opportunities for political reform can
be created by the use of new media in authoritarian states with a combination
of good technology tools, effective strategies and methodologies – put into use
by organizations or institutions that can channel the energy of the public and
the information they produce toward construct and peaceful political activities.
The political environment provides the playing field under which all this
occurs and we all have a role to play in creating an enabling environment,
which activists and groups seeking democracy reform can work to build
democratic societies without fear using new media tools. Thank you, Mr.
Chairman and members of the committee.
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Chris. We will now proceed to Joe Shiyu, deputy
director of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium for your statement.
SHIYU ZHOU: Thank you. So the Internet is a vast, fast and also inexpensive
way to access information and to communicate. While authorities in closed
societies can easily shut down newspapers, block TV channels, jam short-wave
radios and ban books, the Internet is far more elusive.
It has become the greatest hope for global information freedom and
democratization and for peaceful progress of the sort the Helsinki Process made
possible. On flip side, however, the Internet has also become the biggest
target of information censorship for all repressive governments who have put
tremendous resources into beefing up their cyber war systems over the past
The Internet censorship firewalls have become the 21st century Berlin Walls
that separate our world. Amid the darkness of the Internet censorship in
closed societies, a thread of light still remains. It is the Internet life
lines offered by the anti-censorship systems like that of the Global Internet
Freedom Consortium, GIF for short, which has been providing millions in closed
societies for free access to the Internet for years.
GIF consists of small team of dedicated Chinese-American engineers who are
brought together by a common practice of Falun Gong. Many of us were also
among the students on Tiananmen Square during the 1989 massacre. Through the
events of the Tiananmen massacre and the Falun Gong suppression, we have
personally experienced how frightening the state controlled media can be. It
confounds right with wrong overnight, inciting hatred in the society to pave
the way for oppression.
It is our firm belief that free flow of information is the most effective and
powerful way to peacefully transform a closed society and promote human rights
and civil liberties. This conviction has driven us to spend countless
sleepless nights contending with tens of thousands of Internet monitors and
censors in China and around the world, so that the citizens inside those
repressed countries may safely communicate with each other and with the world.
The men and women of GIF maintain operations out of own pockets but we provide
our products and services to the citizens of closed societies entirely free of
charge. After years of hard work, our anti-censorship system has attained
global reach. It is used by people from almost every closed societies in the
world and has been supporting the largest user bases in the world’s most
censored countries like China, Iran and Burma.
During the Saffron Revolution in Burma, in late August 2007, we experienced the
three-fold increase in average daily traffic from Burma. Many Burmese use our
system to post photos and videos of the crackdown to the outside blogs and Web
sites. The Burmese government had to entirely shut down Internet to stop the
outflow of information about the oppression.
Before the Beijing Olympics, when uprisings in Tibet led to thousands of
arrests and large-scale human rights abuses, we saw our traffic from the region
increased by over 400 percent in the first few days. Perhaps, the best example
of the role of GIF software was during the Iranian election this past June,
when our traffic from Iran increased by nearly 600 percent in one week.
On the Saturday of June the 20th, an estimated 1 million Iranians used our
system to visit previously censored Web sites such as Facebook, YouTube,
Twitter and Google. The Iranian users posted videos, photos and messages about
the bloody crackdown. GIF systems have also been of benefit to U.S.-based
organizations such as Human Rights in China, Voice of America and Radio Free
Asia and even companies like Google and yahoo!, who self-censor since we’re
bringing the uncensored version of their services to closed societies.
In fact, when the U.S. Internet companies are criticized for complying with the
censorship demands of dictatorships, they often claim that they have few
options but to do so. However, powerful anti-censorship systems make it
effectively impossible for the regimes to demand censorship of those companies’
in-country sites. This is because the more in-country sites compromise by
censorship demands, the more likely people in those countries will be to ignore
them and to hook up to the uncensored overseas sites through anti-censorship
The services GIF provides are invaluable and their impact goes far beyond the
Internet. There are people in closed societies getting a taste of freedom and
are given a way to share information. They will no longer acquiesce to tyranny
and injustice. Internet freedom has the potential of transforming the closed
societies in a peaceful but powerful way that must not be underestimated. The
operation of our system is very efficient. It only needs a few dollars to
support a user in closed societies for an entire year.
Moreover, for every dollar we spent, China and other censors will need to spend
hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars to block us. The information warfare
over the Internet has now boiled down to the battle of resources. We have
technology and the commitment. With a modest amount of resources, there is
capacity to tear down the 21st-century Berlin walls.
When Congress passed the Internet Freedom Provision in the fiscal year 2008
appropriation act, it declared that, quote, “ensuring the freedom of Internet
communication in dictatorships and autocracies throughout the world is a high
and critical national interest priority of the United States,” end quote.
Thanks to this hearing and the bipartisan efforts now being made in Congress, I
hope that the time has now come for the United States to make that priority
come alive in a committed and robust fashion. Thank you.
MR. PARKER: Thank you, Shiyu. We have one more panelist, who actually could
not be with us physically today, Oleg Brega, who is a prominent Moldovan
blogger who is actively involved in the post-election coverage and protest and
demonstrations that took place in Chisinau. We do have, I believe, his written
statement here available for the audience, as well currently on our Web site as
well as our YouTube channel, which is just – I guess you go to
YouTube/helsinkicommission, all one word; you should be able to find Mr.
Brega’s presentation there that he did prepare for today’s hearing, and I would
like to specifically thank Vlad Spanu and the Moldova Foundation for helping us
out with that. We would love to have been able to telecom him in, or
teleconference him in, but due to some logistical issues we weren’t able to do
With that, I’d like to thank the entire panel for your excellent statements and
also for keeping to time. We now have a fair amount of time for questions,
which I like to think are really the best part of these types of discussions.
And again, we don’t need to limit you – the panelists can question other
panelists or disagree, and certainly people from the audience. The only thing
I would like to ask is if you could just keep your remarks in the form of a
question and identify yourself. We do have a makeshift station over there, a
microphone, and it is – although we probably can all hear, it’s helpful if you
do speak into the microphone for the benefit of the transcribers, who will
transcribe your question for the written record of today’s event.
So with that, first to the audience, and we probably will take a few at a time
and then let the panelists respond as appropriate. So sir, yeah, if you
wouldn’t mind stepping up to the mike, and maybe we’ll take two or three to get
it started and let the panel respond.
Q: Good afternoon, my name’s Andrew Deming (ph). I’m from the State
Department and I’d like to thank the panel for holding this briefing today. My
question was directed particularly at Mr. Spence, but any of you feel free,
please, to answer it. I had the opportunity to observe the Moldovan elections
earlier this year, and it was my first observation mission, so I learned a lot,
but one of the things I noticed was that a lot of the atrocities that would
sort of make an election un-free or unfair sort of occurred in the months
leading up to the elections.
And I really like the idea of using citizen observers and giving them the tools
and technology to sort of go out there and report things on election day, but –
and I know that they’re – the missions do go out there and observe any sort of
foul play beforehand, but is there planning to do any activities or any ongoing
activities right now to sort of utilize the same sort of strategy before the
elections? Because I know a lot of the stuff doesn’t get on Election Day.
MR. PARKER: Do we have another question or two to sort of load the panel up
Q: Thanks, I am Ben Bain. I’m a reporter with Federal Computer Week magazine.
I was curious how important it is to avoid the appearance of interference. It
was brought up a couple of times in the panel, but particularly with Iran, I
mean, there was a lot of back-and-forth into what the appropriate role for the
State Department was to play in interaction with Twitter and some of these
other services, and I’m just curious about the take on how you avoid some of
those concerns, and if it’s important to in the first place. Thanks.
MR. PARKER: One more?
Q: My name’s Robert Guerra, I’m the director – or, the project director of
Freedom House’s global Internet freedom program. I have a question. There’s
the issue of measures and what specifically can be done, both from a
technological point of view but also non-technological, human resource could be
done, so there was specific comments on changes in legislation or others or
hosting providers in the U.S. It would be good to have a bit more details that
were mentioned, but also the non-technical aspect that helps supplement opening
up the Internet that could be useful to address the human skills that are
needed. Thank you.
MR. PARKER: Thank you. With that, please, maybe we can just start from this
side to side, left to right or right to left, however you’re looking at it.
MR. CALINGAERT: Right. Let me – I mean, in answer to the first question, how
do you gather information on pre-election violations? I think Chris made a
very important point that it’s not just the technology, but it has to be part
of a larger strategy. And I think the same goes with – (inaudible, background
noise) – for election monitoring or anything else. And so in principle, the
same kind of technology that was used to get citizen input on Election Day can
certainly be used in a pre-election period, provided you have the systems in
place, and especially the people know about this opportunity and feed it in.
And there’s a very critical component, also mentioned by Chris but often
overlooked in these kinds of programs: The information needs to be verified.
It is useless or even counterproductive to simply be passing around rumors, and
rumor-mongering is very big in elections, and especially Election Day. So it’s
important as part of the structure that you have qualified people to sort
through the information and call what is credible reporting from citizens from
very unsubstantiated information.
In terms of the question about avoiding the appearance of interfering, the
question on Iran, a lot has been said about the U.S. role. I mean, I think one
of the most significant roles of the outside world was actually the diaspora
community of Iranians, that a lot of the information got out via sort of
personal networks to Iranians outside the country.
There were photographs from the days immediately following the election of
Basij beating up student protesters and the like that might have been posted or
passed around among a few people inside Iran, but they really only got –
brought exposure because Iranians inside the country had friends or family
outside who then would post that material on YouTube or elsewhere to get it
So the – Shiyu mentioned the importance of the anti-censorship technology. I
mean, it was obviously critical that that technology was available and in fact
in wide use within Iran so that there were – even though there were significant
blocks on the Internet immediately following the June 12 elections, enough
Iranians knew how to get around that to get the information out.
MR. PARKER: Thanks. Please, yeah. And if you don’t – if any of the panelists
don’t have anything to say on a particular question, we can just move on. It
just helps us – everybody to have a shot.
MR. FREITAS: I’ll be terse. Regarding election monitoring, I want to just
call out the Ushadihi – U-S-H-A-D-I-H-I. It’s a crisis-mapping platform that
has grown out of the movement in Africa after the Kenyan elections. It’s akin
to a blog system, but for mapping crisis, and what’s unique about it is it
allows you to capture unverified and verified information. So you – it starts
to realize that just because something is tweeted, it’s not true, and there’s
sort of posturing and deception. When we build systems that say, okay, certain
– that is a type of data we’ll have, let’s figure out how to deal with it, you
get something better.
And what’s interesting, I think we’ve seen the first round, the 1.0 of a lot of
this election monitoring. As these systems come in place, they’ll be running
all the time, and they’ll be used in local elections and in state-level
elections, and the movement for – these tools will be easier, just like blogs.
Everyone blogs; in a few years, everyone’s got their own crisis-mapping
I think in terms of avoiding interference, the role of groups developing proxy,
amazing proxy software, independent activist groups, technologists,
universities, these are groups that can kind of act without the national
players getting involved, and that’s the world I’m in, and I – in terms of the
State Department asking Twitter to not service – turn their servers off, that’s
a very interesting position that, where does it end? Do they keep asking more,
do they – can they change their SSL port so that Gmail is now accessible, do
you just keep doing these things? I’m not sure.
And finally, in terms of what to do – and I’ll just give one example that I
brought up in my opening statement – I think in the university system in the
U.S., we need to have more opportunities to educate students that they can have
a career in using technology to support a variety of causes, and not just focus
on Wall Street or going to work at Google. So I’m working on that, and I hope
some of you will as well.
MR. MOROZOV: I think the interference question is actually a very serious
issue, and I think there is, more and more, a realization by many authoritarian
leaders that there is a sustained effort by the U.S. government and Western
European governments and the foundations to try to undermine democracy via the
Internet. Whether or not that is actually being made or not is a secondary
And I think whatever the U.S. government and its agencies can do to minimize
that perception would actually be extremely useful. So from their perspective
I think that reaching out to Twitter was the most terrible thing that the State
Department could have done at that point, in part because it did confirm the
thesis of David Inoshoradis (ph) that Twitter is being used as a platform for
fomenting the next revolution. And I think if certain things are done, at
least, you know, it could at least be done privately.
But even beyond that, I think we see, now, looking at the trials happening in
Tehran, that the authorities do perceive the information technology as a
threat. Whether it is actually a threat or not doesn’t really matter; they do
think that Twitter and Facebook – and if you saw, you know, the trial of Kian,
you know, the article in the New York Times yesterday, even the membership on
the mailing list is already possibly an implication in being in some sort of
spy network. So I think we do have to do a lot to minimize any kind of
perception of interference.
So on the question of what’s to be done, you know, looking broader than just
what kind of laws we can pass and what we can do with companies, I think there
is still an assumption that we have to go and start funding the creation of new
digital networks and new Web sites and new blogs. And you know, there is – you
know, all of the media development has to change and to sort of target outputs
and products to the media sector, you know.
And as someone who has worked for a new media NGO trying to do some of that and
who has advised some of the foundations on this, I can tell you that it doesn’t
really work that way in new media development the way it works, you know, in
old media development. You can’t just go fund a project, wait for two or three
years, and expect that it will either work or not, because in most of those
projects, you know whether it is going to work or not in two or three weeks or
two or three months.
So what happens is that because of all these bureaucratic models that we have,
we keep waiting for two or three years. In the meantime, all of the people who
could have been working on their own entrepreneurial projects lose any kind of
entrepreneurial drive because they’re all doing it either for the government or
the government-funded NGOs, you know, in those countries.
So my advice would be to actually focus on creating networks of people and you
know, focusing on conferences, exchanges, getting people out of Belarus or
Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan and hooking them up with bloggers in, you know, the
Baltics or Central or Eastern Europe and then expecting them to go and create
something, rather than just giving them, you know a check and expecting them to
come up with the next Twitter because it’s not realistic that, that’s going to
MR. SPENCE: Okay, I’ll address a little bit of, I guess, the election
monitoring and the Moldova question to the best that I can. In terms of
Moldova, in the July snap elections, I know that NDI was working with NMO – a
regional international election monitoring group – and a domestic group. We
had some problems and NMO was harassed and kicked out of the country and the
NDI program largely shut down. At that point – although we’ve seen a lot of
positive changes in Moldova since then.
I don’t have any information on our current program. I know that there was
almost a presidential election this week and you know, that situation is a
little bit fluid. And I don’t have any information on our future programming
in Moldova, although I’m sure that – I would anticipate that we would support
our domestic partners in very similar ways. In terms of addressing the
long-term observing piece of that question, NDI often – and it’s very, very
common for domestic partners to conduct long-term observing, which is in the
election period leading up to the election.
It isn’t usually what makes the headlines on election day when we’re making our
statements, but almost always, whether we do an election-day observation or a
long-term observation or both, we always do our best to capture what happened
in the pre-election period as part of our political statements about improving
the process and coaching our partners on how to really take a look at that and
include that in any statements that are made.
So pre-election period is very, very important, and whether we program around
it or not and have the opportunity to work with partners in that period is
something that’s always considered. Media monitoring and other techniques are
used to track election irregularities in the pre-election period.
In terms of the bigger question about election monitoring and the quality of
data, one thing that I would say as a broad point – and I mentioned it briefly
in the talk – is that the professionalization of civic groups in their election
monitoring has really amplified and magnified in the last three or 4 years, and
we attribute that to these tools.
Monitoring groups – and this kind of gets to the threshold questions about
Ushahidi and some of the platforms where you’re getting a lot of interesting
information from citizens, but at the end of the day, you’ve really got to
decide, have thresholds been reached which call into question the legitimacy of
the process? And that’s really the political question that election observers
and the groups that we work with have to grapple with.
And there’s so much involved in that methodology that one of the concerns about
the crisis mapping or the crowdsourcing is that the public can then draw
interpretations about the outcome of elections without necessarily having the
filter required. You know, you can look at a map of some city and see four or
five or 10 or several violations of election law reported by citizens who – you
know, you have to deal with the verification problem – but is that significant
in the big picture? If there’s 110,000 polling stations in a country and you
have a sort of a random grouping of reports, it’s really dangerous to draw –
it’s a scale area to draw conclusions – about what conclusions can be drawn
from irregularities that are reported.
So the observation process is a science, and the method of drawing those
conclusions. And so it’s really important that, as these tools get better –
and we like the tools; Ushahidi and the other platforms are great – but we need
to make a distinction between what can be expected out of a professional
monitoring exercise and what can be drawn from unsolicited inputs from
citizens. And I think there are good things that can be taken from both. I’ll
leave it there, I guess.
MR. ZHOU: Yeah, I would just like to make one comment about this interference
issue. So I guess it’s mostly because of the State Department comment on
Twitters, and I agree with Daniel that we should make the technologies
available for the people in the closed societies. Whether we need to make that
comment or not, that’s a different issue. So – because I am from one of such
countries, so we understand the pain, you know, of the people in those
societies. And they are very hungry for free information.
Just take this Iranian election as an example. So the usage – the traffic –
coming from Iran on June 20th was so large and it soon consumed all our
resources and crashed our servers. So we had to shut down the servers for
maintenance – for cleaning – for a few hours. And we got so many messages and
human phone calls from there. So when we restored the services, we somehow had
to restrict the Iranian services, because otherwise our servers just cannot
take that kind of traffic.
By accident, we curbed some of the video services because that consumes more
bandwidth. And in particular, we stopped the YouTube services. And we got so
much complaint from Iran and people even made calls to ask for YouTube service,
so we restored that. So from this, we can see that once we have this kind of
tools available for the people, then you’ll find and use it. We didn’t do any
promotion to Iran at all because, you know, we are a Chinese group; mostly we
do Chinese Web sites and services. But they found our services by themselves
and there were millions of users in Iran using this service.
So I think for a peaceful change in the closed societies, if we have the
technologies available, whether it’s Twitter, Google, Facebook, plus the
anti-censorship systems, the people really will pick them up and that will be
good for the society there. Thank you.
Q: Hi, thank you for taking my question. My name is Matt Browner-Hamlin. I
also serve on the board of Students for a Free Tibet, formerly with Nathan. My
question is, going off of both the discussion of interference and dovetailing
off of the third question about what can actually be done, I think the question
of interference cuts both ways in that, while I think there’s very clear
consensus about how states should relate to technology in closed states, there
isn’t the same degree of consensus on how corporations, technology companies in
countries like the U.S. can behave with authoritarian states.
And obviously, companies like Google, Cisco, Microsoft and yahoo! come to mind
in the case of China, but there are many other less prominent examples that are
probably even more pervasive in terms of the impact of speech within a closed
society. So I wonder what can be done specifically in the U.S. relating to the
behavior of American technology companies towards authoritarian states and
their products. Thank you.
Q: Hi, I’m a program officer at the Academy for Educational Development, and
I’ve been managing civil society program in Moldova, now, going into the third
MR. PARKER: And what is your name?
Q: Kristen Farthing (sp). And my question is related to – I was very excited
by the events in April and they continued to the summer with the re-election in
August. And my question is how, as a development professional, managing
programs, how can you channel that energy and sustain the protest in a way that
then becomes a concerted political action by youth?
MR. PARKER: We’ll take one more and then we’ll – or we’ll take two more, if we
Q: Hi, my name is Mark Palinsky with Digital Democracy. There’s a sort of
lumping of tools under one, sort of, big header – this new media tools. But
each tool is different, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter, and the
responsibility that each tool sort of takes onto themselves for the security
and privacy of their users is also different in each specific case. So I’m
curious if there are tools or methods that you would encourage – whether
open-source or otherwise – that we really start to focus on, contra other tools
that might be good for social networking but, particularly under authoritarian
regimes, can be really dangerous because it doesn’t protect the individual
Q: Hello, my name’s Will DeKerna (sp). I’m with the State Department. I
guess my question builds off the second question, here. You mentioned how
important it is to couple the impact of these new technologies with the
institutions – the political parties that are needed to make that into real
change. And I’d really just like to hear any of the ideas any of the panelists
have about how you can do that, given, I feel, the room to operate for
information technology is often much greater than to deal with political
organizations and things that the regimes are more afraid of than the
technology itself, and how the panelists feel you might reconcile that gap.
MR. PARKER: Thank you. With that, we have, certainly, more than enough to
begin responding. And why don’t we start from this side with Zhou, if you
would like to respond first.
MR. ZHOU: So I would just make a comment on the third question, about the
open-source and security issue. So you know, for Twitter and Facebook –
YouTube – those kinds of services, it’s very different from the anti-censorship
services. Those services are basically a kind of service provided, you know,
for whether it’s in the closed society or in the free society for public use.
So for that, of course, there are privacy issues; there are security issues,
others. But it’s not as acute as for anti-censorship technologies.
For anti-censorship technologies, you know, we’re basically being attacked,
traced and reverse engineered – you know, studied extensively, fiercely by the
censors. And so the user safety is the biggest priority of ours. So for that,
you know – and also, we have to get – penetrate the firewall. We have to
enable the users to pass through the firewall censorship safely.
So for that, it’s a problem that, you know, there are certain technologies that
do not work well and has potential big problems. We do not want to address the
details of the technology here, but we do have such issues. But for the
technology like ours, for example, it’s been working quite well because, you
know, if we can protect the people – especially those dissidents in China –
pretty much, we can protect everybody in the world. But it does need a lot of
work so it’s not an easy job.
MR. SPENCE: Okay, let’s see – the question about how to channel the energy.
How do you – you know, what are the strategies and methods that are used to
take the information that’s coming out of these new media tools and put it to
productive use? And I think that there’s a whole lot of ways to get at this,
and one thing I would say generally is, it’s political-environment-contextual.
So you have to sort of build the solutions based on the political environment
you’re working in – the relationships in the country, the politics of the
country and some of these other constraints around security and safety of your
One of the tried-and-true ways that we do it at NDI is work through NGOs and
political parties that are reputable and have the public trust of the citizens.
So as the information comes through these channels, it can be looked at, it
can be reviewed, it can be analyzed. And then someone can get on television or
get on the Web or get wherever they need to get to and say things that are
useful and practical for the citizens to sort of act upon.
And the idea here is, in a lot of situations for us, it’s try to form your
statements in ways that prevent violence, that talk about using legal channels
to vent your frustrations. There’s often a judicial or some sort of
adjudication process. And really, in these activist environments, it’s really
important that the message is, identify the legal channels, use them, use
partners that people can identify with and trust so that they can take the lead
from those kinds of partners.
You know, if you look at what the Obama campaign did, you know, there are all
kinds of strategies that you can look at depending on, you know, the
environment, and books are being written on all those that are relevant to the
U.S. political scene. But generally speaking, it’s context-specific and it’s
really not – it doesn’t have to be rocket science. Just get good people who
understand the environment to design the programs.
In terms of tools, you know, the ones that NDI partners use are the ones we’re
talking about. Skype is huge. Skype is a really important technology. I
don’t know if it sort of meets the threshold of new media, but it’s very
important. It’s relatively secure and it’s easy to use and it’s cheap or free.
The Tor and the GFI technologies and you know, all of these onion routing-type
things are important.
I don’t know how much – I don’t have a firsthand knowledge of how much our
partners use those. I think they are important in some countries, and
certainly, you know, used – widely utilized, especially in these mass
movements. And then, of course, Facebook and Twitter. So the strategies
differ from tool to tool, but I would think those are the ones that I would say
we think about and we see people using.
And I don’t – I think I addressed the two questions. Was there – I guess I’ll
call it quits. Did I address your question?
Q: More or less, it was similar to the – I was just interested in knowing what
happens when a country lets you – kind of lets outsiders come in – (inaudible)
– increase access to technology but doesn’t allow anyone to interfere with the
political process – (inaudible). And how do you get around that? So I just –
MR. SPENCE: Well, I guess we’re talking about the tools and strategies around
that. I guess what I would say is that whenever activists are in these
countries and they’re getting ready to think about decisions about making –
using these tools and their own personal safety is at risk, what NDI would do
is, to the best of our ability, coach on the parameters of the tools and how
they might be used and what the risks are. And then everybody is going to have
to make a personal decision about how they’re going to use the tool.
In a lot of ways, the Internet tools that we’re talking about are black boxes
to a lot of people. They don’t know if, okay, I’ve got this image on a phone
or got this video on a phone, what am I going to do now? I have a decision to
make. Is it safe for me to transfer it? Is it safe for me to put it up on
YouTube? You know, how am I connecting to the Internet? All of those
decisions have to be made on a very personal level and I think that’s one part
of the discussion that gets a little bit missed, when you think about these
people using these tools.
It’s easy for us to sit around and talk about using the tools, but if you’re in
that position where, you know, you can see the riot police coming at you, you
can see the stones and you make those decisions as an activist – but if you
have to sort of deal with the technology and it’s a bit of a black box, those
decisions are hard. And activists around the world will have to deal with that
MR. MOROZOV: I think I’ll tackle the question about companies – investment
companies, more specifically. First, I think we tend to lump different
corporate activities together here. I mean, first you do have companies which
provide technology for monitoring of traffic and surveillance and censorship.
And then you have companies who provide basic services, like e-mail or social
networking, and under pressure, may actually disclose the personal details of
And I think we should – (inaudible) – too, because it’s important to understand
that a certain category – you know, provision of services – if we antagonize
or, you know, sort of push Western companies from this – (inaudible) – to this
market, their places will be quickly taken by the local companies, who often
are much easier to manipulate and actually pressure and are releasing all sorts
of personal details.
So while we may think that Google mail or yahoo! mail are terrible and those
companies – but the government – I’m not sure that they are that worse,
ethically, than the majority of the companies in China, who probably often do
that without even disclosing it to the media. So we have to make sure that we
do not necessarily, you know, push the Western companies out and ensure that he
locals take their place, because they would probably be much easier to
manipulate. I mean, if you look at censorship on Chinese blogs, Chinese Web
platforms are, increasingly, very eager to self-censor.
I mean, research by Rebecca McKinnon last year showed that when she went and
created controversial content on dozens of Chinese blog platforms, her content
disappeared within 24 hours from most of them, right? And it’s considered
normal by their standards. If you had that page pulled from BlogSpot or
MySpace, it would probably be a scandal of international proportions.
That said, the first category – the companies which do provide technology for
filtering and surveillance – I think they would be much harder to replace, yet,
by domestic competition because some of that technology is fairly
sophisticated. Even there, if you look at how the Chinese tried to implement
the Green Dam software – the Green Dam censorship package that put a limit to
what you can do on your computer, you actually see that they did steal some of
the technology, apparently, from Western companies.
I do think that even if we try to limit what the Western companies are doing,
you’ll still have some of that knowledge already out there, and the locals,
particularly paid or funded by the government, will build on that. But that
said, I think the crucial question here is transparency. And that’s a question
of whether we have to do it through some legal norms by requiring companies
that do export any sort of technology to those countries to disclose exactly
what it is.
At this point, I’m still not sure whether or not Nokia-Siemens is supplying any
packet-inspection technology to Iran despite, probably, a dozen press releases
from them, right? And I think we do have to achieve a standard under which we
do actually know what’s going on. And then, you know, I expect civil society
and the NGOs will actually step in and try to mobilize boycotts or protests,
just like they do against other corporations who engage in unethical practices.
So I think I’ll just –
MR. FREITAS: I would like to actually point out there were domestic versions
of Twitter that were created in China that actually haven’t lasted, and now
they’ve been shut down entirely. So there are some strange cases where this
does happen – where someone says, we’ll make the Chinese Twitter – and maybe
it’s – you can’t even censor it, you know; it just gets completely turned off.
I think there’s another class of technology that has emerged, which is sort of
the camera-surveillance technology, which, what’s interesting about that is,
it’s sort of globally accepted in this war on terror – you know, I live in New
York downtown and I understand why we want surveillance cameras. I understand
why London wants surveillance cameras. When authoritarian regimes get the
power of surveillance cameras and they can decide who are domestic terrorists –
you know, Tibetans are terrorists; the Uighurs are terrorists – you know, the
power of that is scary.
And Naomi Klein wrote a great article looking at Shenzhen and Lhasa and some of
the areas in China with surveillance camera and image recognition and things
In terms of channeling energy, you know, I think a lot of my work is looking at
connecting nonviolence practice with new technology. And I think about, how do
I know who Lech Walesa was, thinking that he said let’s not charge down and,
you know, take to the streets; let’s sit in this factory and work the phones
and work the media and the press and sue these communication tools to get our
story out. And that kind of thought process and, in the new media age, needs
to be encouraged.
So looking at, again, something like the Alive in Baghdad or numerous other
projects that use social media tools to create citizen-journalists out of
people that might otherwise be frustrated rioters, so to speak. So I would
call to the news media organizations to look at working with local
citizen-journalists on the ground instead of sending in your correspondent –
your embedded correspondent.
Finally, Skype is a great tool. And it’s an interesting trend in telephony,
which, our phones are becoming more and more virtual. You know, Google Voice
is the latest craze. You know the phone system is becoming this very
malleable, open-source thing where, during – you know, in some work I’ve done,
I’ve set up banks and banks and banks of virtual phone numbers that all go to
the same line so that you can’t trace the person by the phone number that they
call. And you could change; you could have a hundred new phone numbers a day.
There are things you can do with the phones that are amazing that are what we
think of the Web, we’re going to start thinking of with the telephone. So keep
an eye on that.
MR. CALINGAERT: I’d like to add some comments on the question about U.S.
companies. Obviously, there are efforts through the global network initiative
for the companies to raise their own standards on human rights issues, and in
collaboration with the human rights organizations. And my sense is, that will
only take them so far.
And part of the problem, even in that initiative, is that it’s currently
limited to three companies and it doesn’t include Web 2.0 companies and it
doesn’t include any foreign companies. And I think if there’s going to be –
you know, if there’s discussion about raising the human rights standards of
companies, we should not just be looking at U.S., but also European, Japanese –
other companies working or based in democratic countries.
Obviously, I take – Evgeny’s distinction, I think, is very good between those
who are providing basic services and can be more easily replaced by local
companies in China or elsewhere, versus those who are developing technology. I
think we need to do a lot more regarding the companies that produce censorship
and surveillance technology.
And you know, the Nokia-Siemens case – you know, obviously more information is
needed, but it looks pretty clear that they exported a surveillance system
which would be pretty standard in any country, but the fact that it’s in Iran
strongly implies that it’s used to track down peaceful dissidents. And you
know, similarly, there are indications – not enough research, but strong
indications – that a lot of the censorship technology used in the Middle East
is basic sort of Net Nanny software that is used in the U.S. and elsewhere.
And again, you can use it in the U.S., where we have legal safeguards and court
systems and protections for individuals; if you take that into countries where
you don’t have rule of law, chances are pretty good it’s going to be used to
censor political content and criticism of the government and the kind of free
speech that we ought to encourage. And so I think this is an issue that really
requires some government action.
MR. PARKER: Thank you. Please.
Q: Hi, Erica Moratt from Voice of America, Russian Service. And I have one
question to whoever wants to answer and one to Evgeny Morozov. First question
– I’m going to use the buzzword terrorists, but this also includes criminals
and whatever – organized criminals and groups – to what extent can they use
those open sources? Because I mean, you know, Osama bin Laden can’t have a
Twitter because obviously he’s going to be tracked.
And my second question is to Evgeny Morozov: Russia has invented Gogul search
engine, allegedly for kids, but it does figure what information you can search.
Do you see it as one of the tools to censor Internet, or it’s just another
search engine? Thank you.
MR. MOROZOV: I can start the second question. I mean, those efforts are
pretty common, particularly in Western Europe now, where there is a strong push
to make the Internet safe for kids and to make sure that it’s safe from child
And I think the bigger problem that I see with this current rhetoric is that we
need to start blocking access to those Web sites is that people who really want
to access them still access them, because what’s happening is, we are not
eliminating the content; we are not going after the actual sites. We are just
preventing access to them. So the content is still there. If you’re really
smart, you know, you can actually figure out how to access them.
What I see as the downside here is that you get more and more countries –
Russia and China included – who point to the West and say that look, guys, you
are having your own campaigns to limit freedoms online, whether it’s because of
child pornography or something else; why aren’t we allowed to do the same in
the same fields, or maybe in the field of politics.
If you look at – there was a crackdown on pornography earlier this year in
China where they blocked several thousand Web sites. And at least several of
them were not exactly clear-cut cases of pornography; you could actually make a
case that several of them were sites which write about culture and often write
about sensitive problems for the country. And the fact that, now, we see more
and more crackdowns like this, sort of, or often this rhetoric of, let’s keep
the children free, is a little bit terrifying. And I think that, at root, it’s
not very effective because the real criminals are still using those networks.
And to your first question about terrorists and who else is using the Web, I
mean, it doesn’t make sense for any group which wants to remain invisible and
unseen and which doesn’t have any resources to organize and mobilize to use the
Web – first, to communicate and then to do outreach. So of course it’s
happening. But the question is, you know, how do you define terrorists, first,
right? And then exactly, are they going to be more powerful than people
fighting for freedom? And here, it’s not a question of technology; it’s a
question of politics and social forces. So I don’t think we should stop
promoting those tools simply because terrorists are going to use them because
you know, that would simply be counterproductive.
MR. FREITAS: I get asked this question a lot as well because I’m building,
like, an encrypted phone and people are like oh man, the Mafia is going to love
that, or something. So it is – and my students ask me this as well – and I
don’t, from an engineer perspective, I don’t want to be the guy that said yeah,
just, I made the AK-47 and you know, it’s a great gun. (Laughter.) So you
have to be careful. You need to inject morality into these things, but you do
– it’s a slippery slope.
So I think ultimately, the use of tools for positive gains outweighs them for
criminal. And criminals already have plenty of tools at their disposal for
corruption and money laundering and things.
MR. PARKER: Any other questions?
Q: Might I ask a follow-up on that topic?
MR. PARKER: Please, Neil. Neil Simon with the –
Q: I’m sorry; I should go to the microphone. I’m Neil Simon. I am the
communications director for the commission, but I want to follow up on that
question, looking at who is more developed right now in the use of this
technology. And we’ve seen a lot of great examples from civil society, but are
terrorists and other negative groups more advanced, in some countries, than
even civil society and activists? We see this in, you know, border drug wars
and whatnot. We always see people getting a step ahead of law enforcement; do
we see the other side getting a step ahead of activists?
MR. MOROZOV: I mean, I can answer it quickly. The problem is, we never see
the most successful acts of either activism or terrorism online because if you
really want to be effective, the last thing you want to do is to publicize your
networks. And that’s why I’ve been somewhat skeptical in the ability of
Facebook and Twitter to be very useful in planning and organizing a revolution,
because those platforms, by default, are open to anyone.
You know, they’re open to anyone to watch. And probably, they can be very
useful in publicizing what has already been planned, but they are extremely
visible. And there are a lot of people on both sides who actually would want
to watch them. So I think we, and analysts of this technology, are always one
step behind because the moment technology attracts attention and becomes
public, it stops being useful for people who are actually using it.
I’ll give you an interesting example. You know, Iranian activists used to
conceal and hide their political discussions on a social networking site for
book lovers called Goodreads. And that’s a fairly – you know, a lot of people
use it for purposes that have nothing to do with Iranian politics, and that was
the whole point, that you can actually carve out a little space on that site
and actually carry on the discussions and people seeing – the Iranian secret
services – would never guess that those discussions are going on. Now, the
moment the Los Angeles Times published an article about it, I’m sure it stopped
being useful, right, so they had to move on somewhere else.
So that’s the tension that I have, for example, as an analyst: Even if you
know the tools are being used, to what extent can you disclose that they are
actually being successful? So it’s very hard to answer that, in short.
MR. ZHOU: I want to make a comment on this terrorist issue because I’ve been
asked similar questions many times. So there is a difference between
anonymization tools, which I believe some of us mentioned, and also,
anti-censorship tools. There is a difference between those two concepts.
Anonymization tools, I would say – let’s not be so absolute – but almost all
the other tools except ours are anonymization tools. And they’re used for,
mostly, communications that hide the user’s identity. And they cannot be used
with targeted blockage by the censors. So in other words, if a censor wants to
target this to the target and tries to trace – you know, break the security,
then there is a potential danger for them to succeed.
Anti-censorship tool is to use in the hostile environment that is targeted by
the censors. So they know your tool and they know where your proxies are and
try to block you. So in other words, it’s used for a massive effort to bring
down the firewall. And the other tools are mostly for private use and
small-scale use and are unscalable in a lot of senses. And for those kinds of
anonymization tools, indeed, it is possible for misuse, frankly speaking.
But for our tools in particular – the anti-censorship tools – it’s probably the
last choice for terrorists to use. It’s because their encryption is only
between the users in the censored countries to the proxy server, but once you
get to the proxy server, you get, from proxy server to the destination is
completely open. So it’s just like using the normal Internet. So that’s – so
they can do anything in the – so there is no advantage for using our tools for
the terrorists. So it’s just like using the usual Internet. So there is a
difference between those two concepts.
Q: Hi, I’m Emily from Digital Democracy. One thing that I heard emerging,
which is something that I think is really important, is the idea of how
citizen-journalists, how activists, can learn how the different new media tools
can be used and how to use them effectively – so what I would call new media
Just as media literacy was critical to the 20th century, I think new media
literacy is critical to the 21st. And I’m curious if you can share any case
studies of, maybe, how people on the ground have learned how to use the correct
tools and use them effectively, particularly in terms of addressing security
MR. PARKER: Thank you. And I’d also just like to possibly add to that
question a question of mine: Again, the notion of, you have these tools
available – the very nature of these tools – they’re things we couldn’t have
thought about years ago. And there’s the assumption that anything’s possible
and who knows where we’ll be in a few years. So if somebody gives me a flash
drive preloaded with Tor or something and I’m a civil society activist in
Ashkabad and says I can browse the Internet or communicate or send e-mail to
people in Washington or friends in Europe or whatever safely, how do I have the
confidence? And how do I know that – you know, some of it’s like, well, I can
put a really serious lock on my door but if my door is a pinewood door, then
the lock doesn’t have to be broken; you just break the door.
Or if I have an encryption key that’s very serious but the stick-it is right
there, or someone’s in the room with me in an Internet café or, who knows, is
there an internal camera in the computer keystroke monitoring? And it seems
like, how fast this technology changes, can the end user, who’s not a computer
nerd or whatever – or geek or whatever – somebody who’s really technical about
this, but a simple – someone’s who’s someone else – a journalist, a citizen.
Can it ever get to the point where there’s adequate confidence, particularly in
societies where the price or being discovered can be serious? It could be
prison. It could be worse. And I think that’s part of illiteracy as well, and
just – is that – can you sort of round that square or whatever? How do you
MR. CALINGAERT: Yeah, it’s a very critical issue. And let me put it this way:
Freedom House works with activists in many repressive environments and I can
think of at least a couple cases – well, several – with activists from very
repressive environments who were very sophisticated as activists and they were,
frankly, very naïve about the security of their online communications.
And there was one in particular who, her e-mail was tracked and it turned out
that her e-mail was literally firstname.lastname@example.org. So things that we
would find pretty obvious aren’t necessarily that obvious to, even,
sophisticated activists. And this is – you know, we’re talking about the
basics in this example. I mean, once you get into using different
anti-censorship tools or Tor or you know, Hushmail, Vaultlet – those kinds of
things – it takes training, frankly. I mean, there probably are some users in
places like Iran or Saudi Arabia or wherever who can kind of learn it
themselves, but in many cases, they’re more likely to learn it if they come
into, let’s say, face-to-face contact with people who understand it and can
explain it to them.
MR. FREITAS: I’ve learned an important lesson in working with the Tibetan
independence movement and others: It’s that we can’t presume what people are
willing – are or are not willing to do for their own freedom and liberty and
democracy. We can’t say, oh, if they do that, they might get arrested or go to
jail or get killed and we can’t do that. These are people, as we saw in Iran,
who are willing to take to the streets and die for their freedom, and you know,
the – it’s an important fact to remember to not presume that you want to
The – as far as a case study, a good friend of mine is part of TextPower in the
Philippines. And I really like this model because it’s very simple. Tony
Okruse (sp) is his name, but there’s a whole group of people in the Philippines
that have used text messaging not to go to Twitter, or the Internet – not to be
centralized. We get so caught up on being on – having all these people out
here texting to the middle and going back out.
What they figured out in the Philippines is, this is about your phone going to
other phones going to other phones; you know, this is kind of edges and use of
messaging built on top of the constructs of society, and using what they
already knew how to do. Like everyone in the Philippines knows how to take a
text and forward it to their address book. So they used that technique, as
opposed to forcing new behavior and saying, oh, what you should use is Twitter.
You know, when Twitter came out in the Philippines, it wasn’t a big deal, and
they said, well, why should we use that? It’s centralized. So I think there
are cases where you look at the behavior of what users are already doing and
help them do it better.
MR. MOROZOV: Well, I think the question of literacy is actually very
important, and I think there should be more ways to train activists not only in
the use of tool, but also raise awareness about the vulnerabilities and risks
that even such basic activities as social networking, for example, bring, even
if you are perfectly anonymous. If you do have accounts on several social
networks, for example, but just overlapping those different social networks,
you can actually can learn quite a lot, if not about yourself than about people
in your networks.
It is actually a little – (inaudible) – security research going into this
question of the social graph, right? And there are scientific studies which do
prove that you can glean a lot of information simply by overlapping the
presence of people on various sites like Flickr or YouTube or Facebook, right?
So I want to make sure that activists have heard that, right? They think that
just because I use Tor, just because I use Gmail I’m untraceable, right? And
in that sense, they don’t realize that by joining any of the Web 2.0 Web sites,
they kind of give up part of their anonymity and they give up part of their
sovereignty or whatever you want to call it, and I’m not sure they realize that.
The second point I want to make here is that there will always be the human
factor involved here, and you would never, no matter how secure your technology
is and no matter how many trainings you run, you still run into basic problems,
particularly in authoritarian regimes, where torture is much cheaper than
hacking. It is much cheaper to go and torture an activist and asking for his
passport than to hire 10 hackers who will then go and crack his inbox, right?
And as long as that’s the case, I think we can be building all sorts of tools,
but the reality on the ground will be that, well, either you stamp out the
e-mail and your e-mail inbox explodes – self-explodes in two weeks or you just
act more securely.
So I think you know – I feel these emerging threats are not yet fully
understood, and I think we need to start looking into them and sort of going
beyond these tools discussions that we’ve been having.
MR. SPENCE: I would just add a couple quick things. On the library toolkit
question, I think absolutely. We think that the tools are evolving, and
they’re generally moving in the direction of easy to use and easy to sort of
get your head around. So the strategies are what it’s all about. It’s about
getting – identifying the levers of power in a country, understanding the
political environment, the law, the legislative process, et cetera, et cetera
and then designing strategies, using toolkits if you can to sort of get the
general idea, and then designing strategies that can effect change using those
And so yeah, so absolutely, and then you got to find good partners in these
countries which can – who can really sort of get their head around this and
move it forward, and that’s – I think those are the keys to success. On the
question of confidentiality and anonymity, I think we’re – we, or at least me
and my team, we’re pretty conservative on this with our staff and our partners.
I generally sort of use the analogy of locking the doors but leaving the
windows open, similar to what Kyle was saying. The technologies – you’re never
very – all that certain how secure you’re going to be.
We think our real vulnerabilities are in our physical offices, where people
print something off the Internet or they download something or they have
cookies on their machine or they do any number of things, and when NDI finds
itself in difficult situations, it’s usually – an unfriendly knocking at the
door – it’s usually not some kind of a surveillance – especially –
surveillancing (sic) technology – especially in countries that aren’t as –
China and Russia, absolutely, that’s an issue, but a lot of the smaller
countries with less resources, we really view our vulnerabilities and the
vulnerabilities of our partners in this issue related to how they choose to use
the information that they happened to find on the web, and leaving paper in the
trash, and all the more obvious things. So do that first and then think about
the technical things.
MR. ZHOU: Just to make a quick comment about Kyle’s saying that, indeed, for a
lot of users in closed societies, they are not sophisticated or computer-savvy
users. So it’s – from my experience over the past, for a computer-savvy user
to get around a firewall is not difficult at all, because all the circumvention
ideas are based upon the proxy-server idea. So as long as you can find like a
– for example, I’m in Beijing, I want to go to cnn.com, I cannot go. I find a
third-party, called proxy, server in the free country and hook to that, and
that’s like a detour, and that server can get information from CNN and pass it
to me. So that’s the basic fundamental idea of circumvention. So even for the
computer-savvy user, this is not a hard thing for them to do at all. So for a
small-scale operation to penetrate firewall is – it has the existings when the
Internet started, so it’s widely used for – in the computer circle, the
computer scientist circle.
However, so what we are talking about now is to make a decisive and massive
effort to tear down the wall. So that is, for any user, an any-day user has no
computer knowledge at all, even. As long as he knows how to get Internet, then
he can use the little tool and double-click it, and then he can penetrate the
firewall. So that’s the very, very challenging work. So that’s the – first of
all (YouTube ?) needs to be designed specifically for the computer ignorance,
ignorant users, and also has to protect their safety. So that’s the work that
we are aiming at.
MR. PARKER: Well, we are – we’ve come to the end of our time today. It’s
obviously a – we intended this to sort of be a survey discussion. There’s so
many facets of this, I can see us exploring further the technical side, sort of
a how-to, what’s available, the state of the art, sort of a cookbook for
activists and citizens, the policy side, addressing the issue of terrorists
using these technologies or other questions, and then hearing from people who’d
really put this to use on the ground, sort of the pragmatic.
So I can see that we will be discussing this further, and this – like I said,
this will be published and become an official government product, and when I –
when we had the idea to do this, we looked in CRS, in Congressional Research
Service, no readymade product on it. As far as I can tell, no other
congressional hearing specifically on this yet, and I expect that all to
change. In the coming future, there’ll be a lot – there’s a lot of pending
legislation. So it’s certainly something this particular audience here on the
Hill is very interested in and we will continue to discuss.
I’d like to thank the audience and all of you for the questions, for coming
today. To our distinguished panel, for your excellent presentations and all
the work you’re doing, and also to Chris Doughton (ph) and Max Duiz (ph) for
basically putting this event together, and I’d like to thank you all also for
putting up with the uncivilized buzzers that we have. It sort of comes with
the venue, but with that we’ll adjourn the discussion here.