US trains activists to evade security forces
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States is training thousands of cell phone and Internet pro-democracy campaigners worldwide to evade security forces in what it calls a “cat-and-mouse game” with authoritarian governments.
The US government is sponsoring efforts to help activists in Arab and other countries gain access to technology that circumvents government firewalls, secures telephone text and voice messages, and prevents attacks on websites.
“This is sort of a cat-and-mouse game and governments are constantly developing new techniques to go after critics, to go after dissenters,” said Michael Posner, the assistant US secretary of state for human rights and labor.
“We are trying to stay ahead of the curve and trying to basically provide both technology, training, and diplomatic support to allow people to freely express their views.”
Posner told a small group of reporters that the theme of Internet freedom will be “peppered” throughout the State Department’s annual report on human rights for 194 countries that is scheduled for release on Friday.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is campaigning hard for freedoms of expression, assembly and association online — what she calls the world’s town square or coffee house of the 21st century.
The chief US diplomat has said the protests in Egypt and Iran fueled by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube reflected “the power of connection technologies as an accelerant of political, social and economic change.”
The US government, Posner said, has budgeted $50 million in the last two years to develop new technologies to help activists protect themselves from arrest and prosecution by authoritarian governments.
And it has organized training sessions for 5,000 activists in different parts of the world.
A session held in the Middle East about six weeks ago gathered activists from Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon who returned to their countries with the aim of training their colleagues there.
“They went back and there’s a ripple effect,” Posner said.
State Department officials said one of the new technologies under development is the “panic button,” which allows activists to erase contact lists on their cell phones if they are arrested.
“If you can get the panic button that wipes that (list) clean before they get locked up, you’re saving lives,” said Posner.
The new technology has not yet been made available to pro-democracy campaigners but it will prove useful in places like Syria, where the authorities simply go out and arrest activists who use their mobile phones.
The State Department said it has already funded efforts by private firms, mainly from the United States, to develop a dozen different technologies to circumvent government censorship firewalls.
“One of them has been very successful in Iran. It’s being used extensively. and we have the download numbers,” a State Department official said on condition of anonymity.
“It’s going viral and now that technology is spreading all over the Middle East,” said the official, who declined to name the technology in order not to endanger the people who are using it.
The State Department is also funding efforts to prevent governments from launching attacks — known as denial of service — aimed at shutting down websites that might publish an investigative report or other critical material.
Of fake eggs and sex videos
ON THE BEAT WITH WONG CHUN WAI
MY expatriate friend Paul has called again. As much as I appreciate my newfound friendship with him, I always dread his calls. He seems to always have questions that I shy away from answering.
It’s because the questions are embarrassing, a dent to national pride as I hold steadfastly to the principle that a foreigner has no business asking such things. Sometimes they leave me simply dumbfounded.
I suspect that he, like many expatriates, has also been buying pirated videos. He seems to be able to talk about so many movies and I know he never has enough time to go to the cinemas.
But he seems to have adjusted pretty well.
Like many Malaysians, he has openly denounced piracy and insists that he has never watched a pirated DVD – not even once in his life.
I am worried because hypocrisy seems to be eating into his life rather quickly.
It has eaten into the lives of many Malaysians and I do not want to see that happen to this once naive American friend from the rural mid-west of the United States.
As expected, he asked whether he could get a copy of the video featuring a man resembling Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
He has heard so much about it that he feels he can only make an authoritative judgement after he sees the entire video, he said.
Many of his friends have condemned the video, dismissing it as trash and gutter politics. They are outraged over the sordid political tactics.
But, of course, they would need to see the rest of the 21-minute video to make an educated conclusion.
The one-minute clip on YouTube and blogspots was insufficient, plus it was a little grainy. Yes, a thorough viewing of the entire video would be required. Of course, it’s pathetic and immoral.
Paul, who claimed to be speaking on behalf of his friends, said that after watching the one-minute clip closely over and over again, their opinions are deeply divided.
Some have sworn that the man looked like Anwar after viewing it for the first few seconds. Others have said the first few seconds were enough to convince them that the actor was an impersonator.
He is also confused why some of his politically vocal friends – those who would usually demand for the setting up of a Royal Commission of Inquiry for the flimsiest issues – are angrily shooting down any proposal to set up such a commission, calling it a ridiculous idea.
Paul had another question: what’s this about real eggs and fake eggs? He has heard about pirated videos and there is this on-going debate over whether the sex video is doctored or whether the actor is really Anwar or an impersonator.
But fake eggs? This one really left me with egg on my face.
I told him that as a Penangite, I still get teased by my colleagues over how tight we hold on to our money.
Okay, stingy, if that’s the word that would please all of you who want to pick issues with Penangites.
We are constantly being reminded that we used to bring our own eggs when we buy our char koay teow.
That’s an old story but for some reason, many continue to think that Penangites are still carrying on with such thrifty practices.
I am beginning to suspect that all these people who criticise us have an agenda. A political agenda. An enemy from within.
But a fake egg? No Penangite, I can vouch on this, has ever tried fake eggs. A tray of real eggs costs RM10.50 but a tray of the fake ones costs RM11.
Come on, Penangites would never pay more for something faked – or doctored, in the current video lingo.
I had to confess to Paul that I have never come across a fake egg. I love eggs and I may need to eat these fake ones to ascertain if they are really fakes.
The news reports have said they could be from China. At this point, I had to ask Paul whether Americans, who are ever so jealous of the booming Chinese economy, could be spreading the hoax to discredit the Chinese.
As expected, Paul started to get agitated. National pride was at stake and, to him, the US is not in the business of blaming the Chinese for fake eggs. He demanded an apology.
I was in fact wondering if Paul would next demand for the setting up of a Royal Commission of Inquiry to determine if the eggs were fakes, how they were imported, if bribes were taken and which ministries were to be held responsible.
Of course, I would oppose that vehemently. Who is this American or his former ambassador to tell us Malaysians how to run our country?
But this American from the mid-west wasn’t sharp enough. He hasn’t become as politically emotional as many Malaysians. He hasn’t learned the art of being politically biased while pretending to be completely neutral.
Then he told me all his friends are saying they do not go to massage centres or spas now. Definitely a “no” to “rocket massage” or “sexy massage”, he said.
Yes, they need rejuvenation but NO massage. They prefer to go to “health wellness centres”.
For his final question, Paul asked if these are real or fake massages and whether they would bring “health well-being” as advertised. Friends have also asked where they can buy CCTV detectors, he said.
I think Paul will be in Malaysia for a while.