The EU Vice President, Neelie Kroes, has put out a call for what she calls the "No Disconnect Strategy," in which the European Union will provide technical assistance to human rights workers and protesters throughout the world.
There has been some completely reasonable foment from this. Her choice of a person to assist her, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, has raised eyebrows because of his checquered past, and there's a certain irony to this at a time that the intellectual property forces are trying to create a censorship in the Western world and use as support for their aims that censorship works well in repressive countries.
Kroes defends her pick of zu Guttenberg in her blog post, saying that she's looking for "talent, not saints." Fair enough. On the other point, I think that the irony of the battle over access benefits us more than the IP interests, as well, but I certainly understand people who are stunned and spluttering.
Nonetheless, the No Disconnect Strategy has laudable aims. It lists its aims as:
- Developing and providing technological tools to enhance privacy and security of people living in non-democratic regimes when using ICT.
- Educating and raising awareness of activists about the opportunities and risks of ICT. In particular assisting activists to make best use of tools such as social networks and blogs while raising awareness of surveillance risks when communicating via ICT.
- Gathering high quality intelligence about what is happening "on the ground" in order to monitor the level of surveillance and censorship at a given time, in a given place.
- Cooperation. Developing a practical way to ensure that all stakeholders can share information on their activity and promote multilateral action and building cross-regional cooperation to protect human rights.
As someone who has worked for human rights against repressive regimes for years, I can't find myself against this. Whatever implementation details might have been done better, this is good stuff! I can only hope that the EU comes to those of us who have experience for our advice and help.
Immediately, there are a few things I would advise. For example, in Jennifer Baker's ComputerWorld article, she describes some of the software as being secret. I hope that actually the word they wanted was unspecified because it's too early to decide the specifics. Principle #2 argues against secret software. Activists need to blend into a crowd as much as possible, and special software that only dissidents use provides an easy way to identify them.
Overall, I think this is a great antidote to what we've seen too much of in the last few years. The twin forces of terrorism and copyright infringement have pushed Western governments to advocate the very sort of limits on the messiness of free speech that repressive governments can use as cover for their abuses. This new strategy can not only help activists around the world, but help put into relief the difference between us and them and help us clean our own house.
I'm certainly willing to give whatever aid I can to the No Disconnect Strategy as it is. I hope that others will, as well.