Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Cross posted from Haiti Rewired:

Diaspora communities have traditionally taken on many international development roles in their countries of origin: through remittances, forming charitable organizations & aid agencies, advocacy & activism, economic investment, humanitarian support in the aftermath of crisis and good-governance building. Nowhere more is there evidence of this level of commitment to development as from within the diaspora. Diaspora remittances alone account for $300 billion in annual aid (2006), 60% more than is provided in international governmental aid from OECD countries. On average a member of the diaspora commits $2000 of their annual income to homeland causes.

Through the advent of global internet access (albeit limited within many developing countries themselves), viral social media and omnipresent mobile telephony the diasporan development goals and their impact have been significantly amplified. Never before have the diaspora been so empowered to lend support to kith & kin at ‘home’.

The internet itself serves a multitude of functions for diaspora causes: Through the use of online forums experts within the diaspora can advise on and offer support to a variety of issues for homeland policy makers and governmental officials, as well as helping to widen that discussion to civil society generally, and that dialogue is having more reach than ever before through the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter in this new rapid and infectious spread of information globally; semantic web tools are being used to manage multi-layered information about development and humanitarian problems; employment sites have been developed to match diaspora members to jobs at home, as well as people volunteering support through crowd- sourced efforts: and increasingly popular mobile money systems like M-Pesa are enabling secure and easy remittances via mobile phone to the developing world.

The Haitian Diaspora make up a population of around 2 million people, and was once referred to affectionately by many. Haitians as the ’10th Department of Haiti’ when Haiti was comprised of only 9 administrative regions or departments. Haiti itself has only a population of 9 million. In the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake there in 2010, many in the Disapora community felt compelled to offer support in anyway they could, and their role has been vital not only to crisis response efforts, but to rebuilding Haiti in the post-crisis recovery period.

As I mentioned in a previous article, during the 4636 project, where local Haitians were informed via radio about the 4636 text number through which they could report events and pleas for help, thousands of text messages were sent to the US where members of the Haitian diaspora worked alongside the Standby Task Force of volunteer emergency responders to translate these messages from Creole to English in order for the messages to by mapped enabling the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and others to respond immediately to calls for help. This is an amazing example of the positive impact that the diaspora can have in crisis response efforts.

The Haitian Diaspora also had needs of their own during the crisis – information needs: People in the diaspora wanted to know about their loved ones; they wanted to know about their investments and property; and they wanted to know about the future of Haiti. Social media and the internet generally has greatly enhanced communication through crisis enabling the rapid spread of reporting and information sharing. Leaders of the diasporan communities were able to rapidly share information through the use of Facebook to community members and access via the internet to local Haitian radio stations, such as Radio Soleil, provided real time local situation reports.

During the more recent crisis in Libya the Libyan Diaspora mobilised to harness social media for one of the most profoundly effective social media campaigns ever. The ramifications from this campaign were widespread and can be considered a significant contribution to the ultimate outcome of liberation in Libya.

Whilst the internet and mobile phone services were entirely shut-down by the Gaddafi regime, young rebel diasporans were coordinating their efforts between Europe and the US to get information in and out of Libya about what was going on there. One of the major diasporan efforts, the Libyan Youth Movement, had over 15,000 followers on twitter at the end of the war and their tweets were covered by major news providers across the world such as the BBC and Al Jazeera.

The Independent media outlet Libya Alhurra was also incredibly important for providing visual coverage from within Libya, they worked closely with those outside to help formulate a clearer picture of the crisis as it unfolded. The coordination efforts of the diaspora helped to provide vital information for decision making as high up as the UN Security Council.

In times of conflict and disaster the diasporan commitment to homeland issues is paramount. And, this commitment coupled with technological advances is transforming the way we ‘do’ crisis response & recovery.

For further reading on this topic:

USAID Diaspora-Development Nexus – The role of ICT

UNOCHA Haiti Calling, Calling Haiti

African Argument: Defining the Diaspora’s Role & Potential with Africa

It has been suggested that egalitarian state-building, the facilitation of security and justice and the invitation of trade opportunities are the fundamental factors needed to build peace in the new Libya, but at the heart of every peacebuilding process is communication – moving forward through reconciliation, negotiation and the acceptance of responsibility for ones own actions.

NATO action in Libya was founded on the UN initiative of the Responsibility to Protect (RtP) and affirmed in Resolution 1973, authorizing ‘all necessary means’ to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas. But after it’s bombing campaign there last year 72 civilians were killed including many women and children. David Mepham from Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated in a BBC Radio 4 interview yesterday that “NATO seems to be in denial about these civilian deaths.”

HRW is asking that NATO take responsibility for their actions through providing an inquiry into the deaths and through compensation to the families of those who died. However, according to the BBC; “NATO insists it took unprecedented care to minimise civilian casualties” and “it argues that it cannot take responsibility because it has had no presence on the ground to confirm the deaths.” Ironic, given that NATO launched its mission on the premise of a responsibility to protect and failed. It seems obvious that an inquiry should proceed, not only because of NATO’s responsibility to the families of the victims, but also because of a responsibility to ensure the protection of civilians in future bombardments.  How can this be achieved without a clear understanding of the mistakes made in any given campaign including Libya’s? Is this not accountability: the same accountability that no organisation is exempt from these days however big or small?

What stands out for me is that the ‘West’ is a formidable voice for democracy and human rights and therefore its agents should be exemplars in justice and due process. NATO had a responsibility to protect and has a responsibility to honour the values that it alleges to represent. Especially as the act of taking responsibility and communicating it is so clearly important for the peacebuilding process. After all, how can egalitarian state-building, security, justice and European trade opportunities happen in Libya without reconciliation, trust and a clean slate for everyone?

But this also begs another question about an outlet for the post-conflict voice for all those in Libya affected by the crisis – that there must be one is a given, but finding a positive outlet is the challenge Libya faces. In recent conflicts the internet has been a host to various post-conflict story repositories offering a voice to those who have been directly affected by crisis. Examples of citizen journalism in the aftermath of conflict can be found in the likes of Groundviews (an online magazine for reporting on the Sri Lankan crisis), the Rwanda Genocide Archive and the Meroreport (an online magazine for reporting on conflict in Nepal) to name only a few. In addition to this format, I would be interested to see how some of the new technologies used for crisis response such as Frontline SMS and Ushahidi could be used to map the stories of the conflict in Libya.

For further reading:

From spring into summer: key peacebuilding actions for Libya, Erwin Van Veen

Security Council Approves ‘No Fly-Zone’ over Libya

Unacknowledged Deaths: Civilian Casualties in NATO’s Air Campaign in Libya

See also:

USIP Science, Technology and Peacebuilding

ICT in Conflict & Disaster response and Peacebuilding Crowdmap

A year on from Libya’s triumphant revolt and for most Libyans there is much to celebrate: The successful liberation from Gadaffi’s iron grip, a chance at a fresh start, a chance at democracy and the freedom to openly air their views about the lack of systemic changes and the inadequacies of the NTC. Whilst poverty and food insecurity have been suggested as the main factors in the Arab uprisings, perhaps an equally significant catalyst has been the lack of a vocal outlet for these issues and further the suppression of identities and ideologies generally.

In an interview I had with a member of the Libya al Hurra media team, I was told that “within hours of freedom [in the Nafusa Mountains] printed papers emerged using their traditional ‘Amazigh‘ language (2011).”  The revolution started with the first simple expressions of free speech: simple chanting; protest marching; and citizen first hand accounts of what was happening on the streets. It grew because tasting this freedom was fuel for the fire.

Libyans have a lot to thank its brave and bold citizen journalists for, including those providing vital alternative media sources like Libya al Hurra, having brought the voices of the Libyan people from their hiding places and let them shout out to the world. This reporting not only helped to “galvanize a movement very quickly (2011)” but it provided some solid evidence about what was actually happening inside Libya on which the international community could base their actions.

Whilst organised media oulets like Libya al Hurra managed to provide vital reporting on events inside the country with the right equipment, professional footage and bold interviewing, those armed with a simple mobile phone can also be credited with important reporting in capturing the momentous events as they unfolded.

Citizen journalism is growing increasingly important as a tool for exposing human rights abuses. However, good reporting requires more than just a mobile handset, it requires understanding the type of information one needs to be able to extract from the footage. Data verification is essential if footage is to be used to take action against atrocities in the ongoing uprising throughout the MENA region. Take the following two Youtube videos alleging to portray the protest marches in Tripoli one year ago (neither of these films contain disturbing images):

In the first film there is a lot of noise and we can see that fires have been lit. We might be able to assume from this that there are lots of people around and that there is a sense of disorder on the streets. What we can’t assume is that there are lots of revolutionaries on the streets protesting and that this is taking place in Tripoli and the reason for this is that we can’t see who is there or even where they are.

In the second film we can see clearly that there are many, hundreds perhaps thousands of people, marching in protest and clearly chanting. But again we can not verify the location of this protest because there are no obvious identifiable landmarks on which to base this evidence.

What is needed, if citizen journalism is to be affective, is clear verifiable information. However, one additional important consideration is that, whilst we want proof in the reporting, every effort should be undertaken to protect the identities of people who’s security may be threatened.

Further reading on this topic:

Citizen Journalism: Global Perspectives

‘This is citizen journalism at its finest’: YouTube and the public sphere in the Oscar Grant shooting incident

Principles of Citizen Journalism

Groundviews

YouProve: Authenticity & Fidelity in Mobile Sensing


The advent of radio little over 100 years ago has revolutionised the way in which we communicate. Radio technology is responsible for enabling television transmission, satcoms, mobile telephony and WIFI technology all of which are dependent on the transmission of radio frequency at the core of their atchitecture. Radio has a worldwide omnipresence – it can be accessed by virtually everyone, bar perhaps internally displaced persons (IDP), and is hugely affordable, requiring a one off purchase (or other means of acquisition) of a receiver – when compared to the internet, which is costly & unaffordable for many, unreliable & inefficient in places without sufficient infrastructure, and closely guarded & largely censored throughout a substantial portion of the world, radio is still by far the most relevant communication tool. But radio as we think of it, in it’s am/fm/shortwave analog forms, has very much become the Granddaddy of technology, and is rapidly being replaced by it’s satellite and internet offspring in this new era of digital technology. Whilst traditional analog radio grows old and is challenged by its younger counterparts I want to examine radio in its many guises and look at the important place analog radio still has in crisis communication:

The prevalence of radio makes it a vital tool for crisis early warning, sounding the alarm for the most vulnerable and remote. The major fallback to radio early warning is that should a disaster come in the night, most people do not have their radios on ready to receive their warning. Efforts are being made to devise a radio which has a built in crisis alarm system, which could alert people even when their receivers were switched off, but it would take many years for the system to filter through the market to where everyone in high risk zones owned one of these special radios (Wattegama, 2007). Radio is being used as a preparative tool not only for early warning scenarios, but in mitigation techniques too. Radio programmes worldwide have been offering people effective advice on how to prepare for the onset of catastrophe. Community and commercial radio is being used to inform people before the event of natural disasters such as typhoons, tornadoes, hurricanes and tsunamis.  And in the aftermath of disaster it is often the most essential tool for communcating.

After the Haiti earthquake of 2010 a system was set up, which I discussed in my previous article on mapping, enabling people affected by the earthquake in Haiti to text their emergency messages from their mobile phones to a free text number 4636, the messages were retrieved by the Standby Task Force (SBTF), a team of volunteers, mainly based out of Stanford University & Tufts University at that time, who worked with members of the Haitian diaspora to translate the messages into English. They were then mapped by the SBTF onto the Haiti Crisis Map, hosted on the Ushahidi Platform and the information was fed back to the UN OCHA team where they were able to respond to many desperate otherwise omitted pleas for help. One of the ways that this project was made so successful was through the use of local radio to advertise the project to the thousands of people suffering in Port-au-Prince and beyond.

In any crisis scenario communicating becomes all the more necessary but is almost always more difficult than it would normally be. In situations of natural disaster many of the major communication paths are out of action because of damage to infrastructure including power lines, antennas and telecommunication masts & towers and because of service overload with too many trying to access/offer information simultaneously (Townsend & Moss, 2005). In the aftermath of disaster two-way amateur radio or ‘ham’ radio has been essential for communication between emergency responders. Ham radio uses high frequency short-wave signals and is reliable and affordable way to communicate. In man-made disaster and conflict too communication lines can be seriously disrupted as we have seen in Libya when Gaddafi shut down the internet, and disrupted mobile phone services. Ham radio was listed as one of the most viable means of communicating through the shut-down. Ham radio requires very little infrastructure and is often deployed by the community, who are the natural first responders in disaster (Townsend & Moss, 2005). An inspiring example of high frequency (HF) radio in action in the thick of conflict is in Central Africa where HF radio is being used to track the movements of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Invisible children’s LRA crisis tracker uses early warning radio networks to warn remote communities about the movements and potential threat of the LRA. And one of the greatest benefits of short-wave radio is that it can be difficult to censor and/or intercept.

Interception is a technique used for intelligence gathering it works through either decrypting the signals or through traffic analysis, where one can view the movements of the signals from their originator to their receptor. Whilst it is a technique deployed by authoritarian regimes it has also been used by dissidents to track the movements and actions of oppressing military regimes and monitor paramilitary activity. Spread spectrum radio can be deployed for safeguarding against interception. Spread spectrum techniques are “used for a variety of reasons, including the establishment of secure communications, increasing resistance to natural interference, noise and jamming, to prevent detection, and to limit power flux density” (Spread Spectrum, Wikipedia, 2012).

Jamming is a way of censoring radio transmission used by many despotic and totalitarian regimes, including the Gaddafi regime, to interfere with unwanted radio signals by creating interference on the signal. During the cold war Russia was responsible for attempting censorship of western shortwave stations reaching the eastern bloc, innovative homemade devices for bypassing these restrictions were invented such as ‘directional loop antennas‘ and because “radio propagation on shortwave can be difficult to predict reliably listeners sometimes found that there were days/times when the jamming was particularly ineffective because radio fading (due to atmospheric conditions) was affecting the jamming signals but favouring the broadcasts. On other days of course the reverse was the case.” (Radio Jamming, Wikipedia, 2012).

However there is also the inadvertent censorship of vital radio services that provide objective news coverage where it is otherwise unavailable: Ironically, in the same month as Libyans took arms against the captors of their communication freedoms the National Union of Journalist made an inquiry submission to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee against the BBC proposed cuts to some of their world service programming. The BBC World Service has broadcasts in 72 languages throughout its history (27, as of March 2011) and reached over 188 million people – “1 in every 25 adults worldwide” (Foreign Affairs Select Committee inquiry into BBC World Service cuts, February 2011). The financial decision made by the BBC to cut some of their major service worldwide was a blow to not only those in the service who’s job’s were at stake, but also to the communities who felt they had benefitted from the impartial reporting of the BBC. In an interview with the Guardian a member of the Caribbean World Service office, one of services being cut, said:

“I think many people take it for granted, and because there is widespread democracy in Britain I don’t think a lot of people understand how significant a role the World Service plays in other parts of the world where, to a large extent people, usually depend on the World Service because the local media is very biased or very government controlled and people are not getting a balanced diet when it comes to news and analysis”. (Guardian, 26 January 2011)

The role of the BBC World Service in peace building scenarios has helped to rewrite the narratives of war, to promote community, unity and democracy in post conflict environments such as in Nepal where “a number of prominent civil society leaders have submitted a petition to the British Prime Minister David Cameron urging the UK government to stop the planned shutdown of the short wave transmissions of the BBC Nepali Service. The petitioners have regretted the decision by the BBC World Service to shut down its short wave transmissions in Nepali from March 27 saying that the service had been making tremendous contribution to promote a culture of democracy, tolerance and dialogue on issues of national importance particularly among the poorest and scattered sections of Nepali society who have little access to information. The petition states that since short wave receivers can be battery operated, BBC Nepali Service has been available in places without electricity or during power cuts. ‘ If the short wave transmission is shut down, millions of Nepali listeners, mostly in remote, mountainous areas of Nepal, will be cut off from their essential source of dependable news, and the UK will irreversibly damage its most successful (brand) presence in Nepal.” (Nepalnews.com, 2011 via Kingenfuss.org). Sadly, even with all the international pressure, the cuts went ahead and by the end of May 2011 seven short-wave language broadcasting services were lost (BBC World Service, Wikipedia, 2012).

The cost of losing objective radio reporting can weigh heavy when radio is controlled by a dominating majority or faction and is used to propagate hate speech and unilateral political messages. Perhaps the most noted instance of hate radio was its role in the Rwanda genocide, when Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) national and state owned radio station, participated over an extended period of time in broadcasting vengeful and bigoted messages about the Tutsi minority in Rwanda and ultimately calling on the Hutu to destroy Tutsi– because of the popularity of the station amongst the Hutu majority it was seen as catalyst for the attacks and atrocities against Tutsi which lead to the genocide of 1/5 of their population.

Satellite radio works by receiving digital signals broadcast by satellite, it works “anywhere there is a line of sight between the antenna and the satellite” (Wattegama, 2007). The advantage to satellite radio is that the range is much greater in geographical width than land radio signals, it works in remote locations that might otherwise be unable to reach land radio coverage and it does not require fixed land infrastructure to function, such as masts and receivers and is less susceptible to interception and jamming (Wattegama, 2007). Satcoms work using the same technology and are now the preferred method of communication amongst NGOs working in large scale crises. Organisations like Telecoms Sans Frontieres and Humaninet specialise in just this, providing satcoms, in particular inmarsat bgan, to NGOs working in remote areas, or areas with telecommunication infrastructural damage or where communication is otherwise prohibited. On the Libya/Tunisia border telecoms sans frontieres worked to reconnect 30,500 displaced families escaping the conflict in Libya with relatives and connections in 115 different countries using WIFI enabled satcoms.

Digital radio is rapidly replacing analogue communication in the west a trend that is likely to spread throughout the world but whilst digital radio definitely has its place, and it definitely is a significant place, in crisis response the move away from analogue modulation in crisis response is hottly debated.  One of the major problems that I can see with digital communication in crisis was highlighted by Daryl Jones in his blog where he states:

Digital modulation precludes the ability of the human brain to decipher speech that has been corrupted by noise and interference. Audio recovery is impossible when the signal-to-noise ratio of a digitally modulated signal falls below a certain threshold. With analog modulation, the human ear and brain can “decode” speech that is buried beneath noise levels that digital circuits and algorithms cannot contend with. While analog and digital transmissions are both subject to dead spots and interference, digital modulation reduces human communication by eliminating the “gray area” afforded by analog equipment. Digital equipment (P25 IMBE) usually will not recover any audio in cases where an analog signal will be quite understandable, especially in cases where significant multipath interference is present…a firefighter using a digital portable radio while standing next to a fire engine that is pumping water will probably not be understandable over the radio because the codec cannot isolate the voice from the pump noise. Another example is a police officer who is trying to announce his or her location during a pursuit. The officer’s digitized voice may be unintelligible because of the siren. A canine officer with a dog that is barking loudly may not be heard because of the competing noise from the dog. In all of these examples, it is likely that analog modulation would provide reliable communication (Daryl Jones Blog, Oct 28th, 2007)

Some other new and upcoming radio technologies for crisis worth mentioning include Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) which is being used not only post crisis to help monitor and track goods moving to and through crisis affected areas, but it has been suggest that they also be used in crisis early warning systems as person identification tags containing vital family information as in the SEACOOP E-disaster Use Case. I also found a study recently looking at ‘Enabling Pervasive Mobile Applications with the FM Radio Broadcast Data (RBD) System‘; RBDs provide “a low data rate digital broadcast channel alongside each FM channel” (A. Rahmati et al, 2010) which displays programme information on a radio reciever. The study examines the potential for RBDs to provide information beyond the simple delivery of current programme information and this would perhaps have a relevance in crisis early warning systems and for the provision of post-crisis support.

Radio, therefore, in its many forms is an essential tool for communication in crisis and analog still stands firmly in place as a contender.

For additional reading:

ICT for Disaster Management, C. Wattegama, 2007.

The use of community radio in managing natural disaster in Indonesia, M. A. Birowo, 2010.

Telecommunications Infrastructure in Disaster: Preparing Cities for Crisis Communications, Townsend & Moss, 2005.

Enabling Pervasive Mobile Applications with the FM Radio Broadcast Data (RBD) System’, A. Rahmati et al, 2010.

Projects involving radio in crisis:

USAID – conflict management through community radio

ISIS International – Engendered disaster management through community radio

Invisible Children’s – LRA crisis tracker

Following the World War One Remembrance Day ceremonies held this month, I reflect on Cher Ami, the life of a war pigeon and the power of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for humanitarian relief efforts in crisis:

Carrier pigeons have in the past served as an invaluable communication tool in conflict. Their built in homing capabilities coupled with their undetectability enabled them to pass information safely, quickly and accurately and without the need for human exposure. Some 100,000 birds were used in WWI to deliver messages from the frontline, with a 95% success rate. These so called war pigeons were not only responsible for passing messages and medication, but also in 1907 German inventor Julius Neubronner, developed Pigeon Photography as a way of taking aerial photographs; whilst the technique was not deployed in WWI it was later used in the 1930s for the gathering of counter intelligence and military missions by the French, Germans and Americans (Pigeon Photography, Wikipedia, 2011).

For those of you not familiar with the remarkable story of Cher Ami the homing pigeon, during the first world war Cher Ami saved the lives of nearly 200 US soldiers trapped in an ambush by German soldiers whilst their ‘own artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us’. These words formed the message that was to be attached to this ‘last hope’ pigeon. The pigeon took flight and was quickly gunned down by German bullets, but, to the mighty rapture of the soldiers, the pigeon fought back against all odds flying high above the artillery range with the leg carrying the message dangling by a sinewy thread. In 25 minutes the hero flew the 25 miles, with a bullet in his chest, back to his home, the US base camp, to report the vital information that would change the destiny of these poor ill-fated souls. The firing stopped and the men were rescued.

In a highly anthropomorphic gesture the French government awarded the pigeon “the French ‘Croix de Guerre‘ with Palm for his heroic service the highest honour of bravery”. Whilst he died in 1919 from the injuries incurred from this event, he was inducted into the Racing Pigeon Hall of Fame 12 years later (Andrew on Burdr, 2010). One has to believe that the pigeon, even with all its fame and fortune, would have preferred to have its leg and ultimately his life. Save the pigeons buy a UAV!

Jesting aside, the point of this story is to illustrate the power of unmanned aerial communication and to look at the potential of UAVs as the modern equivalent to carrier pigeons to help look beyond the role of UAVs as defense weapons.

Whilst the majority of UAVs in production will live their lives as deployers of missiles and counter-intelligence gatherers, there is a yet largely untapped market for the production of UAVs in gathering vital humanitarian information during crisis and as transporters of relief cargo within hostile and inaccessible territories.

UAVs can be used for accurate needs assessment in Rapid Onset Emergency caused by natural disaster or conflict. A UAV can travel where traditional walk and drive assessments may not be carried out because of man-made danger or natural hazards. A UAV can transfer aerial images of crisis affected areas in near real time and with the ability to travel in low altitudes unaffected by cloud cover as satellite imagery can be. It can cover a large distance in a comparatively short time period providing comparatively accurate statistics about population data generally and specifically about ‘vulnerable groups,’ for example those living in extremely rural and isolated settings. A UAV can also help to gather information about accessibility to affected vulnerable populations and provide imagery of the destruction/obstruction of homes and other buildings offering vital services such as hospitals. UAVs can therefore provide essential mapping, logistics and situational awareness functions that are required for coordination of humanitarian efforts in crisis (Tatham, 2009).

An additional use of UAVs in crisis is to transport relief cargo where it might otherwise be difficult to travel for example in the thick of conflict. Unknown Aerospace, developed the Cygnet as a cargo and logistics UAV system ‘designed to provide lift and reconnaissance capability for military, humanitarian aid cargo capability, and to provide specialist payload transport’ (Jones, 2007). USMC, American Dynamics and MMIST, who developed the Snowgoose, are some of the others working in this development area. Additionally, UAVs are currently being developed to enable search and rescue missions.

The use of UAVs in Libya was largely conventional: The US government granted NATO permission to deploy Predator drones to launch Hellfire Antitank Missiles on very specific targets in difficult to manoeuvre, highly vulnerable urban setting. The other documented use of a UAV in the Libya crisis was by rebel forces, when they independently purchased a Canadian Aeryon drone to gather information about the location and military action of pro-Gaddafi forces. Nowhere were UAVs used to gather information for the coordination of humanitarian efforts.

Capacity to travel at various altitudes, distances over time, payloads and cost vary from drone to drone. But for a MALE (medium altitude long endurance) one might expect to pay in the region of $30-40k. On average they can carry a payload of 5kg for approximately 10 hours and travel at around 100km p/hour (Tatham, 2009).  When compared with 75g payload over 160km of the carrier pigeon there’s really no comparison!

There are several downsides to the use of UAVs in crisis: In conflict situations, UAV deployment for humanitarian relief efforts may be construed as intelligence gathering by governments under international scrutiny.  Ensuring that the information being gathered serves only a humanitarian function is a challenge that must be overcome;  UAVs may not be able to help in extremely mountainous regions where no landing platform is possible; understanding how the information obtained through the use of a UAVs can be integrated into traditional approaches to needs assessment in Rapid Onset Emergencies also requires substantially further research; and, there needs to be a development of clear protocols and infrastructure for the use of UAVs in non-segregated airspace. Astraea is consortium currently working to enable UAVs in traditional aircraft space by developing airborne sensory systems and regulations.

Like carrier pigeons, UAVs have the potential to be a life saving tool through crisis situations especially for the most vulnerable, further efforts must be made to test and research the role of UAVs in humanitarian crisis situations.

For further reading on the subject:

New Approaches for Autonomous Logistics Aircraft and Ground Systems, Emma Jones, 2007
UnKnown Aerospace

The Mongoose Multi-Purpose UAV for Relief/Humanitarian Missions, 2006-2008, M3 Aviation

Tatham, P. (2009) ‘An investigation into the suitability of the use of unmanned aerial vehicle systems (UAVS) to support the initial needs assessment process in rapid onset humanitarian disasters’, Int. J. Risk Assessment and Management, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp.60–78.

Bots Without Borders – The Draganflyer X6 UAV and Humanitarian Relief Projects

As Gaddafi’s body sat on display in a butcher’s in Misrata, and people queued to take pictures on their mobile phones, I pondered the relationship between Gaddafi’s fitting end and the influence of New Media on this outcome:

Much here-say has been proclaimed on the potency of New Media to bring about political revolution and democracy. Some within traditional media have been quick to hail New Media as inherently liberating. Academics have been more cautious if not cynical. I want to be cautiously optimistic.

An early analysis of New Media and ‘contentious politics’ came from a team at George Washington University who put together a report, Blogs & Bullets, on the power of new media to accomplish institutional change in Iran. They stated conclusively that “the millions of Twitterers who colored their profiles green in support of the Iranian protesters could not prevent the Iranian regime from attacking its opposition. As one ‘tweet’ cruelly put it, ‘Note to would-be revolutionaries: you can remove the green tint from your pictures now, it didn’t work.’” (Aday et al, 2010). But is it a case of it instantly working or not working or is it a case of what impact it had for longer term institutional transitions within Iran? To what extent did the twitter campaign draw the attention of the international community and to what extent did it change the minds of people within Iran? To what extent did it open up a dialogue amongst Iranians about the power of social media to create change within their country? To what extent has it helped to pave the way for a paradigm shift in that country, and across the MENA region? These may not be easy questions to answer, but in a country where the rate of internet saturation was at the time around 11%, contrary to the reports estimation of 32.3%, it is also difficult to know how far reaching New Media had the power to be. After all, it worked in Tunisia & Egypt, where internet is around three times more prevalent. What happened in Tunisia and in Egypt are, in my opinion, causal relationships between, New Media, Traditional Media (including pan-Arab satellite), internet saturation rates, international politics and countless other individual factors.

John Sides, one of the authors of this report, stated in a recent USIP event called Sifting Fact from Fiction: the role social media in conflict that 89% of the million Libya related bit.ly links accessed on Twitter in the first few weeks of the conflict in Libya were accessed from outside of the country and he used this to reify his argument that this does not represent a clear relationship between revolution in Libya and New Media. Firstly, if we flip that figure on its head that represents 110,000 bit.ly links accessed in Libya during the early days of the conflict. Granted it is impossible to know who was accessing those links, but in a country where only 354,000 people have access to the internet on a good day and where at the time nearly the entire country was under complete internet censorship – I would read this as an impressive amount of national interest in twitter reporting. Further, I want to ask the question what percentage of the 89% accessing those links outside the country represent Libya’s diaspora community with connections to those living in Libya? It might be impossible to know, but it is certainly relevant. In a recent interview with Patrick Meier, who was responsible for the coordination of the Libya Crisis Map for OCHA and an expert in liberation technologies and repressive regimes, he told me that whilst censorship disabled some Libyans from engaging with New Media to report incidents within their country, people still managed to bypass around these restrictions and that “whilst you are not getting 100% of the information you could get you are still getting much more than you would ever ever get before [the advent of social media].”

Which leads me to the question of the relationship between citizen journalism and international response. Also during the USIP conference, the term ‘megaphone’ was batted about to describe New Media and I’m going to run with this: Professor Tim Luckhurst said at a Media Society event Libya and the Arab Spring two weeks ago that “yes, social media makes a contribution but it makes the least contribution when you need it most. And it cannot always be relied upon. And it can only be relied upon when it is curated by professional journalists.” (via Daniel Bennett’s blog Mediating Conflict). Contrary to this conclusion, where social media stands out is in societies where objective reporting is not possible: in severe conflict and under authoritarian regimes where traditional international media dare not venture. Three cases I want to discuss pre-New Media are Cambodia (under Khmer Rouge), Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  In Cambodia:

“The Khmer Rouge closed Cambodia to the outside world. Very little information came out of the country during the Khmer Rouge era between 1975 and 1978. Media coverage of Cambodia during this time was rare. One of the only sources of information about what was happening in Cambodia came from refugees that had escaped the Khmer Rouge and fled to Thailand and Vietnam. Their accounts were often discounted as exaggerations.

In the spring of 1978, in an attempt to improve its international image, the Khmer Rouge permitted Elizabeth Becker from The Washington Post and two other journalists to visit Cambodia. That same year a group of American journalists from The Call, a communist newspaper from Chicago, also visited Cambodia and published a photo book. The two accounts of what was happening in Cambodia were vastly different. The question of what was happening in Cambodia was fiercely debated by journalists and academics in the West. The world soon found out what the Khmer Rouge had done”. Cambodia: Public Health and Humanitarian Action (Columbia University, 2007)

No reporting meant that the international community were not privy to the atrocities happening in Cambodia.  No one did anything to protect Cambodians at the time and until June of this year not a single Khmer Rouge had been tried in a court of law.

In Rwanda, the international community has been fiercely criticized for their lack of response in what was a genocide of incomparable proportions. In just three months over 500,000 Tutsi, 20% of their population, were slaughtered – one of the outstanding factors in the lack international response was a distorted media portrayal of the early events followed by a ‘total exodus’ of the international media presence in Rwanda at the time (Kuperman, 2000). Again, no one knew what was happening.

A third case, which the George Washington University team discuss, is the DRC. They state that new media have “paid little attention to ongoing strife in the Congo” (Aday et al, 2010) This is perhaps the most interesting case of all for the importance of new media in ‘contentious politics’. What the Georgetown team failed to mention is that in the Congo only 0.5% of the population have access to the internet, and we can assume that most of these people represent an extremely elite group within the DRC. No one is tweeting stories from inside the DRC! Sides also discusses the limited attention span of media’s audience; Traditional media will engage with a story so long as it can generate a sustained interest in the topic, when people have had their fill they stop watching, and the coverage dies down. It would be interesting to see how if there were a New Media presence in the Congo it might be able to generate a greater international interest in the civil conflict there and greater support from the international community. Tim Butcher’s Blood River topped the best seller list in March 2008. It’s not that people aren’t interested, it’s, perhaps, that there is no regular international reporting on the events. Incidentally, over 5 million people have died in the last decade in the DRC due to the ongoing conflict there.

The Libya conflict set a precedent globally for the international community to commit to a ‘responsibility to protect‘. Without a new media voice in Libya how could this have come about:

“When Libya banned journalists from entering Libyan territory in the initial days of the uprising and military crackdown, images soon circulated on YouTube that were incor­porated into mainstream news media and documenting attacks on rebel forces by Libyan heavy armour. Dubbed ‘The Global YouTube News Bureau’, vivid images bearing wit­ness to human rights abuses and impending humanitarian catastrophe circulated despite the absence of foreign correspondents on the ground. As they did so, calls were increas­ingly heard for those responsible to be pursued and prosecuted in the International Criminal Court.” Media and the Arab Uprisings (Cottle, 2011)

New Media, therefore, has a symbiotic relationship with traditional media in closed or inaccessible societies; New Media needs traditional media to act as a legitimiser and an amplifier and traditional media needs New Media to act as a gateway. This symbiosis has been essential throughout the Arab conflicts, especially where the internet has been censored, dependence on the presence of pan-Arab satellite and credible far-reaching channels like al-Jazeera to report back to people within closed countries, we can assume, has helped to generate revolutionary momentum within these hidden worlds. I await a response from al-Jazeera about their take-up in Libya at the time of the conflict, but I’m willing to bet it’s greater than the 6% internet penetration rate there.

Another point to consider is the use of social media by the regimes themselves and its impact. As with traditional media, people select their news, to some extent, by the ability of that source to offer the standpoint they choose to support (In the UK liberals don’t choose the Times, they read the Guardian) the same we can assume happens with twitter and new social media, we choose what we want to view and which perspective we want to ‘follow’. So from this point of view, dictators (and their supporters) jumping on the twitter band wagon are not likely to generate anti-dictatorship ‘follows’. As I have followed the Libya crisis, from an Anti-Gaddafi perspective, I read what is being generated by pro-rebel Libyans and their supporters. I’m not interested in seeking out pro-Gaddafi propaganda, except from a purely academic point of view and want of analysis of propaganda; It doesn’t stand to influence me, because it doesn’t have any credibility for me. Just like I wouldn’t give value to anything I read in the ‘News of the World‘. I think we have to assume that people in Libya experiencing the feeling of oppression under the Gaddafi regime are not likely to be equally influenced by pro-Gaddafi propaganda as by pro-rebel incites. Where this kind of propaganda can have an effective outcome is where a percentage of the population of any given regime-led country is still in support of that regime or sitting on the fence. Then we can assume that it might bring about renewed support or sway the unsure. As one Libyan man reported ‘Libyans I know rarely watch al-Jamahiriya. When they do they get angry…they watch al-Jazeera or Western Channels.’ This is not to say that Libyans didn’t watch al-Jamahiriya, but that the ones that were looking for change would be perhaps less likely to.

Some final points to consider, are:

1) Is the rhetoric produced by new media only so potent because of the ‘new’ aspect of New Media – is it the current hype around Social Media that is encouraging traditional reporting from/about New Media sources?;

2) New Media depends on services like BBC Monitoring to extend its reach through the translation of native language reports for an international predominantly English speaking audience;

3) There was much rhetoric at the time in the mainstream media suggesting that, by standing down, Ben-Ali had set a precedent that would have repercussions across the Arab world. To what extent this rhetoric was a catalyst for action is also a worthy topic of debate;

4) Citizen action, in any form, does not necessarily lead to change. I saw with my own eyes more than a million people from across the UK march in peaceful protests in London against intervention in Iraq – 1 month later we went to war. And to some extent, the outcome in Libya was dependent on a nearly unanimous national hatred for Gaddafi in order to go the distance and gain the rebel support needed (Tarzi, 2011).

There are many factors that equate to a desired outcome in home-grown activism, New Media is just one of them.

But how do I know Gaddafi is dead? Because I saw footage uploaded from a Libyan’s mobile phone and I believed it…the final testament to the power of citizen journalism in the Libya conflict.

For further reading on this topic see:

Advancing New Media Research. Sean Aday, Henry Farrell, Marc Lynch, and John Sides, 2010

Blogs and Bullets: new media and contentious politics. Sean Aday, Henry Farrell, Marc Lynch, and John Sides, 2010

Media and the arab uprisings. Simon Cottle, 2011

Mirage in the Desert: reporting in the arab spring. Alan Fisher, 2011

Are foreign correspondents redundant? Richard Sambrook, 2010

Arab Media Influence Report –AMIR 2011, Social Media & the Arab Spring. Fadl Al Tarzi, March 2011

USIP Peace Watch: media, technology & conflict. Winter 2011

Mapping is a way of referring to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) which, put simply, take geo-referenced data and place it on a map for the purpose of a clear visualisation of the metadata and for the purpose of geo-locating actionable information. So for example if I want to know where to target my funding for an anti-drugs campaign I could map the data for instances of drug and alcohol related crime in order to see which areas of any given location, say L.A., might be most vulnerable and stand to gain the most from this funding. Any information which can be geographically referenced can be mapped and many different types of information are being mapped; You can check out Floatingsheep for a look at a wide range of maps or Ogle Earth for a critical analysis of mapping applications in science and society.

When mapping data intended to benefit people living in fragile or failed states it is important to consider which map on which to place our datasets. Lets take OpenStreetMap (OSM) vs GoogleMaps: The differences between the two are extensive, but I want to highlight one point and that is that Google Maps are corporate; Google is a for-profit company, and for the purpose of this discussion that equals being subject to export restrictions and country-specific discrimination. OSM on the other hand is an open source map, which means that anyone who knows how to use it and has access to an internet connection can add information to these maps. So in places where the Google folks can’t go – like the DRC or the Gaza Strip – detailed information, such as landmarks, hospitals, schools and other points of interest (including minor roads and alleyways), just isn’t available for these locations. See OSM Gaza Strip vs Google Maps Gaza Strip.

That said, neither OSM nor Google Maps have detailed information for the DRC, but we can assume that in the case of the OSM this is because in the Congo very very few people have access to the internet, less than 0.5% vs 81% in the Gaza Strip (CIA World Factbook, 2011). Another important point to mention is that for all countries where US trade sanctions apply Google Earth is a good as gone.  During the Darfur crisis in 2007, aid workers in Sudan were unable to access Google Earth due to export restrictions on Google licenses in Sudan placed on Google by the US government, as a US company.

The importance of GIS, or mapping, in situations of crisis and conflict has recently become more widely acknowledged; The mapping platform Ushahidi, an African-born technology, was used most notably in Kenya during the post-election crisis in late 2007, in Haiti following the devastating earthquake of 2010 and this year in Libya during the crisis that erupted following the February 17th protests. Ushahidi takes information via email, online, through text and voice-mail messaging and twitter geo-references it, tabulates it and turns it into visualizable and manageable data on one of the widely used maps of your choice (Google, Yahoo, Bing or OSM Maps). The technology supports other platforms such as FrontlineSMS and SwiftRiver in order to enable more accurate and timely reporting.

Ushahidi works through crowdsourcing: crowdsourcing in terms of the crisis related information going into the map and crowdsourcing in terms of the online volunteers from all over the world who manage and filter that information, otherwise known as the Standby Task Force (SBTF). The SBTF work as a kind of volunteer global emergency service and they are trained before hand (and sometimes on the job) how to use Ushahidi platform and how to filter and verify reports. Anyone in the world with an internet connection (presumably broadband), a mobile phone and some time to offer can join the SBTFMapAction, who have also been commended for their mapping efforts in recent major conflict and disaster related crises, work on the same premise as the SBTF and have produced a range of maps covering various datasets surrounding the Libya crisis.

After the success of the deployment of Ushahidi during the Haiti earthquake crisis when it provided invaluable crisis related information for the humanitarian relief effort managed by the UN, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) decided to directly collaborate on the formation of a crisis-information map for the Libya Crisis.  The Standby Task Force (SBTF), lead by Patrick Meier worked with the OCHA coordinators in Libya to compile a map of essential information for the humanitarian efforts there.

In OCHA’s follow-up report on the collaboration with the SBTF, they highlighted the need for products like the Libya Crisis Map to go beyond online “event” reporting, which I’m going to take to mean the mere reporting of event related news readily available online. One of the major problems with mapping in conflict vs mapping in natural disaster is the inherent need for sensitivity and confidentiality surrounding some types of information being managed; Ordinary civilians living in conflict situations risk torture and death when participating in a project like this. Patrick Meier discusses this in his post-mapping analysis of the collaboration with OCHA;  The SBTF did manage to get local collaborators on board to feed information directly from Libya about the goings-on, but hesitantly;  They were happy to collaborate as long as the map remained within the private domain to be viewed and used only by those directly involved in the humanitarian efforts. When the Libya Crisis Map went public three days after the private map was deployed this collaboration stopped.  The implications of the publication of the map for the global audience on these Libya-based contributors is unknown.

Also a second major problem was present, that of a total censorship of the most important telecommunication networks available at the time, i.e. the internet and mobile phone services. In Haiti, the Ushahidi team organised with the US State Department for a text number (4636) to be made available for Haitians to report localised crisis information from their mobile phones – this greatly enhanced the success of the humanitarian efforts.  In Libya, no text number was made available and would have been fruitless as all mobile services which were state-owned and operated were shut-down along with the internet by the Gaddafi regime.

This leads to the question: who did the Libya Crisis Map serve? Indirectly, it served the Libyan civilians at risk, in particular those who were displaced, but only through it’s ability to support the coordination and organisation of information already readily available for OCHA in its role in coordinating humanitarian efforts. OCHA praised the efforts of the volunteers in that they managed to establish in under 48 hours what it would have taken them (OCHA) more than a week to do without them, but unlike the Haiti Crisis Map it could not extend that support to many vulnerable people directly involved in the crisis.

It might be worth mentioning that even if mobile connectivity was present, a text number was available and there was no fear of reprisals no infrastructure was available to reach out to those deep within the conflict affected areas – OCHA couldn’t help people in Tripoli anyway.  The map’s function as support for only the humanitarian coordination efforts is also reflected in the fact that mapping was handed over to an OCHA team after 4 weeks and carried on only until 4th June, even though fighting continues to ravage Libya.   It is evident that mapping in conflict related crises, therefore, poses greater challenges than mapping for disaster related crises.  The technology was not able to transcend the severe censorship placed on the Libyan people by a Gaddafi desperate to hold on to his control.

Whilst mapping in conflict affected areas has it’s limitations, it has not been extensively researched as to how maps might be used to predict where conflict might arise. Global MapAid works to map instances of poverty across the world in order to help target poverty relief efforts. The relationship between, poverty, food insecurity and conflict has been well documented and mapping poverty to target poverty relief efforts could help in mitigating conflict related crises.

Maps relating to the Libya Crisis include:

Libya Crisis Map – SBTF

MapAction have a 6 page catalogue of Libya crisis related maps

Tripoli Prisons Map

The battle for Tripoli and the Search for Gaddafi Map

For further information:

Libya Crisis Map Report, Standby Task Force, 2011

OCHA Lessons Learned – Collaboration with VTCs in Libya and Japan, 2011

Standby Task Force Blog

Ushahidi Blog

Global MapAid

Reports on this week’s advance by rebel forces on Tripoli have been marred by uncertainty and misinformation on the power and position of both opposition and pro-Gaddafi forces.  Reports coming from within Gaddafi strongholds of the city suggest that there is still a heavy presence of pro-Gaddafi supporters armed and ready to fight.  Saif Al-Islam, the son of Gaddafi initially said to have been captured by rebels, gave a defiant interview to members of the international press confirming that many in the city were still ready to fight in support of the Gaddafi family.

Because members of the international press cannot move freely and safely throughout Tripoli it’s difficult for them to accurately establish the realities of this final fight.  One solution however to this challenge is to create a crisis map.  Crisis maps enable us to get a better and fuller picture of crises as they unfold.    Crisis maps work through crowd-sourcing reports from inside the affected area.  The information is verified by several reports offering identical information and is then marked out on a map of the area.

Several organisations have been responsible for creating online Libya crisis maps including Global Map Aid, Ushahidi and ICT4Peace.  You can find these maps in the link section of this site.

If you are in Libya and want to provide information to support the Google Map: The Battle for Tripoli, LIBYA you can tweet information to @k_thos.

The mobile revolution

Posted: August 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

Christopher Kedzie wrote in 1997, back at the start of the internet age, that “totalitarian societies face a dilemma: either they try to stifle [information and communication] technologies and thereby fall further behind in the new industrial revolution, or else they permit these technologies and see their totalitarian control inevitably eroded.  In fact, they do not have a choice, because they will never be able entirely to block the tide of technological advance.” Kedzie was one of many to express certainty in the power of the technological revolution to invite freedom to the masses and force erosion of the old order.  Whilst authoritarian resistance has been strong and censorship heavy the strength of this ‘tide of technological advance’ cannot be overstated; Although internet-based revolution is still largely an activity of the global elite, the ubiquitous mobile phone has invited new resistance and new freedoms across the world, most recently in North Africa and the Middle East.

The reason for the pervasive spread of mobile telephony worldwide as compared with fixed line telephony and fixed line internet is a simple case of economics; Infrastructural cost for the provision of mobile services is a fraction of that of fixed line services where miles and miles of fibre optic cables have to be laid and in places where government is unaccountable, corrupt or disaggregated and funding mismanaged, the provision of telecommunications is low on a long and convoluted list of priorities.  Also, the provision of mobile service and communication towers is usually privately funded by cellular mobile providers and so does not need to be a budgetary concern for governments.

Authoritarian states like Libya, however, who maintain a protectionist approach to communications, have kept the mobile services under state control.  The main providers of mobile services in Libya are Libyana (ليبيانا ), founded in 2003 and New Orbit (المدار الجديد ), founded in 1996, both state owned and operated.  According to the Libyan General Information Authority’s Statistical Handbook for 2009 (p254), Libyana & New Orbit provided nearly 7 million mobile service subscriptions in that same year covering “more than 95% of all cities, villages and oases and the desert road and the oil fields and most of the towns and roads of the Great Jamahiriya” ( Arabic Wikipedia, 2011). Other sources have suggested a slightly lower figure, but for all intents and purposes the rate of mobile saturation in Libya is over 100%.

Mobile Phones and Protest

The rise of the mobile phone has meant not only an easier and wider access to vital market information, helping to improve livelihoods for people in transitional and developing economies, but also to information about the geopolitical mechanism of global trading systems and the inequity it produces.   A now wider understanding of economic injustices is supporting grassroots tensions.  The mobile phone also enables an open platform on which to express grievances about these inequities between community members and the wider world and, beyond this, a platform on which to organise and disseminate information about protests quickly and efficiently and before anyone in authority might notice and disable the communication.  In 2002 Howard Rheingold coined the phrase ‘Smart Mobs‘ to describe just this: “when communication and computing technologies amplify human talents for cooperation.”

Mobile broadband and smart phones have facilitated a wider access to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and so called ‘people-powered’ political movements facilitated by the likes of Avaaz.org.  Nearly 10% of those living in Arab States subscribe to Mobile broadband (ITU, 2011).   Schmidt and Cohen predicted: “Governments will be caught off-guard when large numbers of their citizens, armed with virtually nothing but cell phones, take part in mini-rebellions that challenge their authority” (2010) and the evidence of this has been globally widespread over the last 8 months.  Open source software like Frontline SMS makes it simple to send information from one computer or mobile phone to many instantly.

In Libya, during the early protests and through the conflict, mobile phones with video function have been used to document government supported atrocities and acts of violence against peaceful protesters as well as providing footage of front line activities via Youtube and other video sharing communities.  This type of citizen journalism serves an important role in situations where objective news may not be possible, as in Libya where the state control not only telecommunication services, but also broadcast and print medias, and may act as supporting evidence in convicting individuals of  war crimes in the aftermath of conflict.

Mobile Phones in Conflict

Mobile phones through political crisis carry the potential for being a vital communication tool, with their multi-functionality and portability; With a mobile phone a person has the power to communicate about their personal safety, to organise provisions, to communicate conflict news and to organise support & aid to name just a few uses.

During the election crisis that took place in Kenya in 2008 mobile phones were used to protect  household income.  The M-Pesa mobile banking system was used to help safely manage remittances coming from diaspora communities.  Whilst not widely researched Graham Sherbut studied the impact of remittances through conflict and suggests; “In the midst of conflict (and after conflict has subsided), this income preserves some degree of household security” and that remittances can “bolster [household] economic security in the midst of renewed conflict” (2009).

Limitations and Censorship of the Mobile Phone

Whilst the mobile phone is perhaps the single most powerful communication tool through crises, the potential is all at once rendered obsolete when totalitarian authorities wield power over the service provision.  There are a number of ways that authoritarian states can disrupt mobile phone services;  They may choose simply to cut the service as they did in Libya in February of this year.  Alternatively, the airwaves can be jammed by running radio waves over mobile frequencies to cause enough interference so as to disable the communication.

Privacy and security are major issues through conflict and mobile phones are susceptible to hacking attacks and government sponsored phone tracking programmes such as are reportedly being used in China.  Alongside hacking & tracking, pro-government propaganda is spread as easily as protest information via SMS.  The Centre for Policy Alternatives have put together a guide to Digital Security and Privacy which highlights things for human rights activists to consider when communicating through mobile technology.

Bypassing Censorship

Methods for bypassing service disruptions are, as with internet service attacks, extremely limited.  Peer to peer mobile networks via devices which are bluetooth enabled, for example, are highly secure methods of transferring information but cover only short distances.   The Commotion Wireless software I discussed in my last article would be another viable option, but, as Thomas Gideon of the Open Technology Intitative explained to me, a “USRP [Universal Software Radio Peripheral] is the necessary hardware for integrating 2G telephone access into the mesh [network]“.

In Benghazi local telecommunication engineers have re-established mobile services through reconfiguring the network, but this was down to the fact that the subscriber information was, by chance, held regionally as well as at the head office in Tripoli.

A final point to consider is that when managing emergency communication through conflict “there is an increased need for authoritative official information” (D. Coyle & P. Meier, 2009).  Knowing who your messages are coming from and whether the information being provided is timely and accurate is vital to positive outcomes in crisis situations   Authentication of mobile messages could be a serious challenge for those responsible for managing humanitarian crises.

Further reading and information:

 Sanjana Hattotuwa – ICT4Peace

The Centre for Policy Alternatives

Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, Howard Rheingold, 2002.

Assessing the Development Impact of Remittances in a Conflict Environment, Graham Sherbut, 2009

New Technologies for emergencies and conflicts, Diane Coyle & Patrick Meier, 2009

I recently discussed the currently limited prospects of overcoming internet censorship of ‘kill switch’ proportions and about clandestine outfits as the only viable solution to making a high speed internet network in the face of this type of censorship…and then I stumbled upon an article in the New York Times about the US governments attempt to support these clandestine operations by packing wireless networking components into a suitcase to smuggle across borders to rebels ready to set up ‘shadow’ networks. The New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative (OTI), with the support of funding by the US State Department, has created the very tidy ‘Internet in a Suitcase’. Whilst there is scepticism about the US government’s actual intentions, whether they are acting as genuine philanthropist or simply intelligence gathering, it is still a very exciting prospect.

The suitcase contains:

  • USB Memory Stick, which holds the networks software
  • A repeater, which bridges GSM phones and WIFI mesh networks
  • A mobile phone, which also holds the networks software and can be transferred anonymously between phones using bluetooth
  • A variety of high power antennas and receivers
  • Disks of software
  • An easy to use manual

The idea is that the suitcase will be discreetly passed across borders into the hands of dissidents where they will begin to construct a network of people, through which to disseminate the software ultimately creating an ad hoc WIFI network which sits outside the national internet infrastructure. The hardware constituents play much less of a role than the software, which is also available as a simple download. Unfortunately, the overview of the project and software information is currently unavailable in Arabic, when it does become available I will post the link in the bypassing section of this site. What’s nice is that, whilst the OTI remain elusive about how they intend to deploy the suitcases, the software can be used right now on and between normal GSM phones making it extremely relevant for countries like Libya where traditional internet use is a fringe, or rather elite, activity, but where nearly everyone has a mobile phone.

The challenges the OTI could face would be: 1/ overcoming scepticism about the US government’s political intentions; 2/ finding a viable way to deploy the suitcases; and 3/ avoiding being caught out.

For further information visit the Open Technology Initiative website.

The OTI are currently looking for Arabic speakers  for translation work.  People are asked to join one of their mailing lists to find out how they can help:

Developers List
http://lists.chambana.net/mailman/listinfo/commotion-dev

General Discussion List
http://lists.chambana.net/mailman/listinfo/commotion-discuss

Announcement Only List
http://lists.chambana.net/mailman/listinfo/commotion-announce

Communicate via IRC in #oswc on irc.freenode.net (or http://webchat.freenode.net/ for a web client).