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.
Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan to give up royal titles — ‘the hardest #Megxit possible’
Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan will give up their royal titles and public funding as part of a settlement with the Queen to start a new life away from the British monarchy.
The historic announcement from Buckingham Palace on Saturday follows more than a week of intense private talks aimed at managing the fallout of the globetrotting couple's shock resignation from front-line royal duties.
It means Queen Elizabeth II's grandson Harry and his American TV actress wife Meghan will stop using the titles "royal highness" -- the same fate that befell his late mother Princess Diana after her divorce from Prince Charles in 1996.
17 new cases of mysterious SARS-like virus discovered in China — as country prepares for Lunar New Year celebrations
China reported 17 new cases of the mysterious SARS-like virus on Sunday, including three in a severe condition, heightening fears ahead of China's Lunar New Year holiday when hundreds of millions of people move around the country.
The virus -- a new strain of coronavirus that humans can contract -- has caused alarm because of its connection to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
Of the 17 new cases in the central city of Wuhan -- believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak -- three are described as "severe".
Trump’s top Russia expert was placed on administrative leave — and escorted from the White House: report
There has been more upheaval at the National Security Council according to new reports.
"Andrew Peek, the senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council, has been placed on administrative leave pending a security-related investigation," Axios reported Saturday, citing people familiar with the situation.
"Peek had been expected to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland next week, where President Trump is expected to meet with a number of world leaders as the impeachment trial takes place back in the Senate," Axios added.