by Joshua Peterson
WASHINGTON, June 13, 2011 – The U.S. State Department has
acknowledged funding the establishment of independent “shadow” internet
and cell-phone networks in countries with oppressive regimes, according
to a Sunday New York Times article.
The effort is part of a broader “liberation technology movement”
critical in the recent popular uprisings such as those in China, Iran,
Egypt, Libya and Syria – the more recent events are commonly referred to
as the “Arab Spring.” The liberation technology refers to the use of
information technology to expand political, social, and economic
In countries like Iran, Libya and Syria these shadow networks and
technologies would allow activists to communicate with each other and
the rest of the world despite government censorship to prohibit such
According to New York Times sources, one such project, an “Internet
in a suitcase,” is being developed by New America Foundation’s Open
Technology Initiative, a nonpartisan nonprofit, with the help of a $2
million State Department grant.
The suitcase uses off-the-shelf equipment readily available in
various parts of the world, open source software technologies and Wi-Fi
to allow users to communicate on the Internet without a central hub.
“Because we chose Wi-Fi as a platform, the software can run on a
variety of devices,” said Josh King, a technologist with New America
Foundation in an interview with Al Jazeera. “It won’t take an engineer
with a computer science degree to be able to deploy it somewhere.”
The news comes days after U.N. Special Rapporteur Frank La Reux
released a report that declared government restriction of internet
access to be a violation of human rights.
The representatives from the State Department were not available for comment at the time of the publication.