Tag Archives: Internet

NPR stories expose internet tracking (while shortwave remains immune)

This morning, NPR’s (National Public Radio’s) Weekend edition aired two intriguing stories sharing one strong common thread. First, “CIA Tracks Public Information For The Private Eye“–a look inside the CIA’s Open Source Center:

Secrets: the currency of spies around the world. The rise of social media, hash-tags, forums, blogs and online news sites has revealed a new kind of secret, those hiding in plain sight. The CIA calls all this information “open source” material, and it’s changing the way America’s top spy agency does business.

While you must listen to or read the full story to fully appreciate it, its gist is that this featured department of the CIA essentially uses readily-available public information in order to unlock and predict all sorts of activities they’ve traditionally tracked through covert operations. It’s a paradigm shift in how they’ve traditionally done business. Though not surprising, if you know the nature of the internet, it is fascinating nonetheless.

The second story, “Technological Innovations Help Dictators See All” dealt with the flip side:

As technology gets better–and cheaper–it’s becoming easier for authoritarian governments to watch and record their populations’ every move. John Villasenor of the Brookings Institution joins host Rachel Martin to discuss the phenomenon.

This discussion covers a real and growing problem:  the online Big Brother phenomenon.  Many people feel secure and anonymous online, but are not.  Moreover, as tracking technologies get better, I fear it will give these governments even more control over (and methods to intimidate) their people.

[Incidentally, NPR’s Fresh Air did a story in December 2011 which focused on tracking technologies regimes use–it’s a must-listen, as well.]

I hope international broadcasters are listening to stories like these. It’s more clear than ever that VOA, BBC World Service, Radio Australia, Radio France International, Radio Netherlands Worldwide, and the like still hold the key to getting uncensored information into oppressed countries without bringing harm to listeners, namely, via broadcasts over shortwave radio.

For, as we’ve often said, shortwave radio is impossible to track, works at the speed of light, is everywhere, and requires very simple and affordable technology on behalf of the listener. Let’s keep it alive and well:  burgeoning democracies rely upon it.

Yet more supporting stories for our ongoing series, “Why shortwave radio?

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The Register: Global internet surveillance skyrocketing

(Photo courtesy: USAID)

As I’ve mentioned in many previous articles, the internet is surely an excellent first-world technology. However, as this article from The Register points out,  the internet also hides a much shadowier, more alarming nature, exemplified in the growing amount of internet surveillance.

A top US government official believes that the internet is under fierce attack by authoritarian governments worldwide, and that the situation is rapidly deteriorating.

“Today we face a series of challenges at the intersection of human rights, connected technologies, business, and government. It’s a busy intersection – and a lot of people want to put up traffic lights,” said US Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, speaking at the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday.

[…]And as information communications technology moves ever deeper into less-developed countries, Posner sees the problems increasing. “These are the places where repressive regimes are getting hold of the latest, greatest Western technologies and using them to spy on their own citizens for purposes of silencing dissent,” he said. “Journalists, bloggers and activists are of course the primary targets.”

From his point of view, governments in some of these emerging markets “appear fiercely determined to control what people do online.”

Again, this underlines the straightforward, egalitarian nature of an alternative media source:  shortwave radio.  People living under the control of such a regime can turn to radio to hear voices from across the globe, to dispel inaccuracies and fallacies, and learn the truth.  Unlike the internet, there’s no virtual gateway that can be locked down by a government’s heavy hand. Shortwave radio has no regard for border crossings.

Best of all, no one can prevent these listeners from listening; no one can track them or their listening habits.

Herein lies my fear that, as many large international broadcasters such as the BBC, VOA, DW and others abandon shortwave service to invest in the internet, we put all our eggs in one tenuous basket. Certainly, we can invest in technologies which attempt to stall government efforts to temper our internet presence in, for example, China; but what about the people accessing these protective internet sites?  Who is watching them and their surfing habits?

Crack.  There goes democracy…

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