The United States is pushing ahead with its vision of an Internet with no government censorship by funding projects to create stealth networks free of authoritarian government control.
The United States is helping
fund and develop technology that can be used to bypass Internet censors in other
countries, according to The New York
The State Department has
several initiatives in place to establish cell phone networks and other
communications systems in various countries to bypass the repressive regimes'
control over the Internet, the Times
reported June 12. The report cited planning documents, classified diplomatic
cables and anonymous sources.
Governments have long used
their control over telecommunications companies and Internet service providers
to control the Internet and to censor the kind of information available to
During the height of
anti-government protests in North Africa and the Middle East earlier this year,
many of the governments decided to disable Internet access or to restrict
shut down the Internet entirely for nearly a week, Libya
imposed a curfew and Bahrain
significantly increased Web filtering. Syria temporarily shut down Internet
access within its borders June 7.
"We see more and more
people around the globe using the Internet, mobile phones and other
technologies to make their voices heard as they protest against injustice and
seek to realize their aspirations," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote
in an email to the Times
The United States has been
increasingly trumpeting the importance of Internet freedom as part of its
foreign policy platform. Clinton said in a Feb. 15 speech that "freedom
" was a foreign policy priority and pledged $25 million in new
grants to support "technologists and activists" fighting Internet repression to
stay ahead of "repressive governments."
The United Nations has
recently declared that disconnecting people from the Internet was a violation
of basic human rights.
Some of the techniques
appear to be fairly low-tech while others require sophisticated technology to
build "shadow" communications networks. In one project, the State Department
has spent approximately $50 million to build a cell phone network physically
beyond the control of both the Taliban and the Afghan government in Kabul. The
project relied on towers built on U.S. military bases, unnamed U.S. officials
told the Times.
The State Department is also
financing projects to create stealth wireless networks, including a $2 million
grant to develop the "Internet in a suitcase." The networking access points
were designed to look like regular suitcases that communicate with each other
to create ad-hoc mesh networks connected to the global Internet. These
suitcases could be smuggled into a country and deployed over an area to create
a service independent of government control.
"We're going to build a
separate infrastructure where the technology is nearly impossible to shut down,
to control, to surveil," said Sascha Meinrath, the lead researcher on the
project, a part of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative.
Another initiative relies on
Bluetooth technology where activists can beam data over short-range
connections. Users would flag data that can be automatically transferred to
other trusted users over Bluetooth as soon as the devices come in range. There
would be no need to physically initiate the transfer or to accept the content,
so authorities won't even see the information being passed around.
American diplomats also met
with a defector from North Korea who described a system where Chinese cell
phones are buried near the border, allowing anyone who knows the locations to
make outgoing calls over the Chinese network.
The Obama administration's
initiative is not the first time the United States has supported efforts to
bypass Internet censors. Washington has supported the development of software
that allows users to surf the Web anonymously as well as to send
even when the Internet is turned off.