“Imparting democracy” comes at a price. Maybe technology can make it cheaper — a lot cheaper.
With conservative estimates putting the total cost of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at more than $1 trillion, maybe the Obama Administration’s $2-million price tag to create Internet and cell access in countries that would love for people to remain ignorant of the world around them looks like a steal.
The projects “shadow” Internet and mobile phone systems so that challengers to repressive governments could spread the word about freedom even when those governments shut down communications networks.
Communication among the masses often provides more punch than weapons and soldiers. History shows that repeatedly, and my students in Press Law & Ethics at Western Kentucky University hear about it a lot the first week of class.
I know money is tight these days, but it seems $2 million is a pittance for a project such as this, considering the U.S. investment in wars. While Congress squabbles over $100 billion in the budget battle, ending these two wars would slow the debt clock considerably — even if you add Libya to the pile.
The value of the Web, Net and cells phones cannot be dismissed in places such as Egypt, Yemen, Syria and even Iran. Even democracy-friendly governments learned that lesson when they tried to cut off Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
The Marketplace of Ideas theory didn’t lose its value when the colonies formed a government. It remains as powerful and practical today.
And in the case of the State Department-backed effort now underway, the technology comes in a suitcase, literally. The collaboration pulls together diplomats, military engineers, programmers and dissidents from at least a dozen countries — and hackers. To the youthful participants in the effort, war is not “cool,” but hacking is. Nothing appeals to hackers more than disrupting the life of those who would deny the populous access to the Web through numerous devices — especially brutal regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The hackers call it the “liberation-technology movement.”
I call it cheap and easy — and with unlimited potential for loss of the lives of U.S. soldiers.
As I said, the concept is not new.
Other means used by the U.S. and other countries through the years included leaflet dropping from airplanes, Voice of America and of course, Tokyo Rose.
But cell phones, the Net and the Web are so much more pervasive and stealthy.
“We’re going to build a separate infrastructure where the technology is nearly impossible to shut down, to control, to surveil,” said Sascha Meinrath, who is leading the “Internet in a suitcase” project as director of the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group.
You go, girl.