Obama Administration Finances 'Shadow Networks' in Foreign Countries

Lora Bentley

After government officials in Egypt shut down the country's Internet service in an attempt to squelch political protestors and dissidents, the entire world became acutely aware of just how much we rely on the Internet to communicate - and just how easily a government can control access to it.


The knowledge motivated Columbia University law professor and free software advocate Eben Moglen to launch the Freedom Box Foundation. The foundation's goal is to build small encrypted servers that plug into the wall and that can be loaded with their own information and programs. They would be roughly the size of a cell phone charger, and they would run on low-power chips. If people had their own servers, then the government wouldn't be able to cut off communication with which it did not agree. In February, Moglen told The New York Times the Freedom Box Foundation would be up and running approximately a year after it was able to raise $500,000.



Now, the U.S. government is also set on providing a means by which political protestors in countries with repressive governments can continue to communicate even in the event of an Internet shutdown. The New York Times reported last week that the Obama administration is funding efforts to create "shadow" wireless networks in countries like Afghanistan, as well as an "Internet in a suitcase" project. Writers James Glanz and John Markoff explain the latter:

The suitcase could be secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet.

As the push for political freedom continues to move across the globe, efforts like these will undoubtedly grow in scope and number. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the NYT:

There is a historic opportunity to effect positive change, change America supports. So we're focused on helping them do that, on helping them talk to each other, to their communities, to their governments and to the world.

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