Last week, Google announced that they would no longer censor their search results in China. On Thursday, Hillary Clinton will be delivering a major address on internet freedom. We at NDN have long been leaders in this conversation around how the internet and the global communications network can be a force for freedom. In 2007, in the introduction to A Laptop in Every Backpack, Simon Rosenberg and Alec Ross wrote:
We believe it should be a core priority of the United States to ensure that all the world’s people have access to this global network and have the tools to use it for their own life success. There is no way any longer to imagine free societies without the freedom of commerce, expression, and community, which this global network can bring. Bringing this network to all, keeping it free and open and helping people master its use must be one of the highest priorities of those in power in the coming years.
Since releasing that paper in 2007, we have written a great deal more on these subjects, and we have assembled below some of our best work on the subject. For future commentary, be sure to check Global Mobile, our blog about the power of connectivity and technology. Enjoy:
Question for the Week 1/18/10: by Sam duPont Sam reflects on recent statements by President Obama that begin to lay out a liberal worldview, and asks whether we can continue business-as-usual with China, given recent events.
Are Free and Open Societies in Retreat? 1/17/10: by Simon Rosenberg Simon responds to a recent essay in the Economist that sees global challenges to liberty, and observes that the great battles of the 21st century will be open vs. closed, rather than left vs. right.
Reflections on 21st Century Statecraft 1/15/10: by Sam duPont One year into President Obama's first term, Sam duPont looks at "21st Century Statecraft," one of this administration's defining foreign policy initiatives so far, and identifies the actions that have comprised this initiative.
Should Access to Mobile Networks be a Universal Right? 12/21/09: by Simon Rosenberg Looking at the Administration's recent commitment to protection of human rights in Iran, Simon asks whether—in an age when we use our mobile phones to do so much—we should consider access to our devices and networks a universal right.
Twitter, Iran, and More: Impressions from the Front Lines of the Global Media Revolution 7/15/09: with Nico Pitney, Eric Jaye, and Theo Yedinsky In this discussion of the role of Twitter in politics and media, we hosted Nico Pitney, the Huffington Post reporter who brought the voices of Iranian protesters out into the open, and Eric Jaye and Theo Yedinsky of Gavin Newsom’s groundbreaking gubernatorial campaign in California. Video: Nico Pitney Video: Eric Jaye & Theo Yedinsky Video: Q&A
Alec Ross, Tom Kalil & Tim Wirth on the Power of Mobile 6/26/09: with Alec Ross, Tom Kalil, and Sen. Tim Wirth NDN co-hosted the release of a new paper jointly published by the UN Foundation and the Vodaphone Foundation examining the potential for mobile technology to improve healthcare delivery in the developing world. Speaking at the event were Alec Ross, Tom Kalil, and former U.S. Senator Tim Wirth. Simon Rosenberg hosted the discussion. Transcript: Simon Rosenberg (intro) Video: Alec Ross Video: Tom Kalil Video: Senator Tim Wirth Video: Simon Rosenberg (interview)
Obama: No Realist He 6/16/09: by Simon Rosenberg Simon argues that, given who President Obama is and what he represents, he does not have the option to become a foreign policy realist. Instead, he must become a chief global advocate of free and open societies.
Harnessing the Mobile Revolution 10/8/08: By Tom Kalil Tom Kalil, now Deputy Policy Director of Science and Technology at the White House, authored a paper for the New Policy Institute analyzing the power of mobile to create economic growth, better public health, and stronger democracies in the developing world. PDF: Harnessing the Mobile Revolution
The Power of Mobile 4/14/08: by Simon Rosenberg On the heels of stories about the potential of mobile technology to help fuel protests, Simon asks what power mobile phones can have to fight poverty, as well.
A Global Recession for Democracies? 3/8/08: by Simon Rosenberg Despite a global optimism about the spread of democracy, Simon notes that it has faced challenges and setbacks in recent years.
A Laptop in Every Backpack 05/01/07: By Alec Ross and Simon Rosenberg Alec Ross, now Senior Adviser on Innovation to Secretary of State Clinton, co-authored this paper with Simon, in which they argued that connectivity to the global information network is an essential part of life in the 21st century, and called for the deployment of netbooks to prepare our children for this new world. PDF: A Laptop in Every Backpack Video: Alec Ross
The video of Simon's speech is unuseable, so we offer you this transcript of his opening remarks, instead:
Simon Rosenberg: Thank you all for coming. I'm Simon Rosenberg from NDN. We're one of the sponsors of this event, and proudly so, tonight. And my job here is just to set the table for some of the other wonderful speakers we're going to have. And I want to begin by just thanking all the partners of this effort, and congratulate them on what has been a wonderful day. From CTIA and the Vodafone-UN Foundation Technology Partnership, to my incredibly good friend and inspiration Carolyn Brandon, who's got more energy than just about anybody I've ever met, who's here tonight-- there she is. Thank you all.
For those of you who don't know about NDN, we're a think tank here in Washington. I think the reason Carolyn asked me to speak tonight was something that Alec Ross, who's here, he and I wrote a paper two years ago, calling for universal laptops for all kids here in America. Uruguay is doing it, Libya is doing it, we don't have a fundamental commitment in the US to providing our workers and our kids the kind of tools they're going to need to succeed in the 21st century economy. It's something we feel very passionate about, and I just want to read to you, if I can, what Alec and I wrote, and hopefully it'll be relevant to tonight. So, we wrote that:
A single global communications network, composed of Internet, mobile, SMS, cable and satellite technology, is rapidly tying the world's people together as never before. The core premise of this paper is that the emergence of this network is one of the seminal events of the early 21st century. Increasingly, the world's commerce, finance, communications, media and information are flowing through this network. Half of the world's 6 billion people are now connected to this network, many through powerful and inexpensive mobile phones. Each year more of the world's people become connected to the network, its bandwidth increases, and its use becomes more integrated into all that we do. Connectivity to this network, and the ability to master it once on, has become an essential part of life in the 21st century, and a key to opportunity, success and fulfillment for the people of the world.
We believe it should be a core priority of the United States to ensure that all the world's people have access to this global network and have the tools to use it for their own life success. There is no way any longer to imagine free societies without the freedom of commerce, expression, and community, which this global network can bring. Bringing this network to all, keeping it free and open and helping people master its use must be one of the highest priorities of those in power in the coming years.
And it's something that's been guiding us in our work at NDN, and I think what brought us together tonight. And I just want to congratulate, again, the remarkable report that we all are celebrating tonight. What an inspiration I think it is to all of us here, and hopefully to the policymakers who are being exposed to it. And I'm proud to say that Adam Smith, who was the keynoter at the event this morning, is one of the most influential thinkers on global development policy in Congress, and I know that he read the whole report-- I actually know that for a fact. So we've got one, so far, that we've been able to influence.
Let me make one other point, and then I'll introduce our other guests. I think this really is an exciting time to be alive. Despite all the challenges that we have, and the global recession that we're in, we know that at some point in the next ten years that all the people in the world are going to be connected through these things that we used to call phones.
And if we know that the last great moment of democratization of information that took place, which was the printing press, helped bring in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment in Europe, what is it going to mean for all of us, and the societies that we live in, that a farmer making two dollars a day in India has the same access to information as my kids sitting in Washington with a 24-inch iMac. This is, I think, going to be seen in the future as a tipping point in human history. And I am just excited that I am going to be able to witness this and be a part of this in the coming years. And I think it's going to be something that increasingly, the impact of this-- on governing, on politics, on health, on the economy, on freedom as we've seen in Iran in the last ten days-- that this is fundamentally going to alter our lives in ways that I think we've only just begun to think about. And what an exciting opportunity for us in the coming years, to work together to bring the promise of this mobile age to be. So thank you, again, for letting me address all of you tonight.
Two quotes, and a question that, I think, naturally follows:
First, this is an excerpt from the piece President Obama published in the latest issue of Newsweek. In the piece, he explains why Haiti matters to America and Americans, and explains why we-- as individuals and as a nation-- must act to aid the people of Haiti:
But above all, we act for a very simple reason: in times of tragedy, the United States of America steps forward and helps. That is who we are. That is what we do. For decades, America's leadership has been founded in part on the fact that we do not use our power to subjugate others, we use it to lift them up—whether it was rebuilding our former adversaries after World War II, dropping food and water to the people of Berlin, or helping the people of Bosnia and Kosovo rebuild their lives and their nations.
With this language, Obama comes closer to enunciating a true liberal worldview than he has previously. I think he means it, I think he believes it, and I think that as the Obama Doctrine becomes increasingly clear, it will be formed around the arguments he makes here.
Second, this is a tweet, translated from Chinese, that has circulated widely among Chinese Twitterers:
The sin of Facebook is that it helps people know who they wanna know. The sin of Twitter is that it allows people to say what they wanna say. The sin of Google is that it lets people find what they wanna find, and Youtube let us see what we wanna see. So, they are all kicked away.
President Obama is writing about helping the victims of a natural disaster, which is something we can and should and will do. But his language here-- about using American power to lift people up-- has much deeper implications. In the world we live in today, unfettered access to the internet is all but a natural right. As this Tweet makes clear, it is how we know, say, find, and see what we want. And if it is our goal to lift up individuals, ensuring access to the internet has to be a crucial part of that goal.
This Thursday, when Secretary of State Clinton delivers a "major address" on internet freedom, I think we'll hear a response to this question. If the Obama Administration is serious about the liberal values it has enunciated, that response can't be a positive one.
In recent months, Secretary Hillary Clinton's State Department has been undertaking a series of actions under the heading of State's new "21st Century Statecraft" initiative. In brief, 21st century statecraft is a strategy of expanding diplomacy beyond traditional government-to-government relationships and including everyday people around the world in the business of international affairs-- often through the use of mobile and web-based technologies including social networking, online video, blogging, and SMS.
To help explain and better understand what, exactly, 21st century statecraft is, and to provide what I hope will be a useful reference, I've compiled below the initiatives of the Obama Administration that fall under this heading:
Nowruz Video - In March, President Obama released a video on YouTube in which he spoke directly to the people and leaders of Iran on Nowruz, the holiday marking the Iranian New Year. His address acknowledged the troubled history of the U.S.-Iran relationship, and welcomed "new beginnings" with Iran. The video has been viewed over 100,000 times, and was well-received in Iran.
Swat Text - After Taliban forces took over Pakistan's Swat Valley in May, the U.S. committed $100 million in humanitarian support to aid refugees. But they didn't stop there-Secretary Clinton encouraged regular citizens take part in the relief effort; by texting "swat" to the shortcode 20222 from any mobile phone, any American could automatically donate $5 to the UN Refugee Agency.
Virtual Student Foreign Service - In her speech at New York University's graduation ceremonies in May, Secretary Clinton announced a new initiative that connects American college students with American embassies overseas, and empowers those students to act as diplomats by engaging directly with citizens of foreign countries.
Cairo Speech - Shortly after Secretary Clinton unveiled the 21st Century Statecraft initiative in late May, President Obama gave a much-anticipated speech in Cairo on the relationship between the U.S. and Muslim people (not governments) around the world.
Twitter in Iran - The world watched rapt in June as thousands of Iranians marched in opposition to their government, which had just baldly and boldly stolen a hotly contested election. With no control over traditional media outlets, Iranian people took to Twitter to broadcast-in words, pictures, and videos-the power of the uprising and the violence of the government's suppression. With Twitter scheduled to go down for maintenance in the midst of the uprising, the State Department intervened in support of the freedom of information, as Jared Cohen, who works with Alec Ross at State, contacted Jack Dorsey at Twitter, and urged them to keep Twitter online so as not to silence the protesters in Iran. The Twitter executives obliged, and Twitter was taken offline for maintenance in the early morning hours in Iran, rather than during the mid-afternoon.
Congo - Alec Ross visited the eastern Congo in September, the site of one of the longest, deadliest conflicts in the modern era. He returned with ideas for two new initiatives. The first was high-tech: a mobile banking system, to allow the government and international agencies to pay their soldiers, without depending on unreliable cash deliveries through the jungle. The second was low-tech: The State Department would help put ex-combatants on the radio to use their credible voices to speak directly to the militia members and encourage them to demobilize.
Cuba -The means of the Obama Administration's new engagement with Cuba employs some of the tenets of 21st century statecraft-- easing remittances and travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans permits people-to-people dialogue. Additionally, relaxing sanctions on telecommunications with Cuba by allowing undersea cables and permitting cell phone carriers to do business in Cuba will empower individuals with information and communications technologies.
Mexico Initiative - A new collaborative effort between the State Department, the Mexican government, a Mexican telecom firm, and Mexican non-profits will address one challenge of the drug violence in the border region-the inability of citizens to anonymously and securely tip off the police. The groups, in partnership, will establish a free SMS short-code, to which Mexican citizens will be able to anonymously text tips reporting on incidences of drug-related crime, which would be published to a public database and acted upon by local police.
Humari Awaz - Speaking in Islamabad in October, Secretary Clinton announced American support for a mobile-phone based social network in Pakistan. The network is called Humari Awaz, which means "our voice," and it is accessible via a free SMS shortcode on all five mobile networks. Pakistanis will be able to use these networks for purely social purposes, or to pursue business, media, agricultural, and other ends. The US government will pay for the first 24 million text messages sent through Humari Awaz. The program has met with unexpectedly quick success, with half of the free texts being used in the first few weeks.
Civil Society 2.0 - A short time later in Marrakesh, Secretary Clinton unveiled a new "Civil Society 2.0" initiative, in which the State Department will provide funding and expertise to allow grassroots civil society organizations around the world use technology to grow and work more effectively.
Shanghai Townhall - On his recent trip to China, President Obama held a townhall meeting in Shanghai, at which he addressed a group of students. While the event was not broadcast as widely as the U.S. government surely would have liked, the very act of an American president speaking directly to Chinese students, and addressing, if gently, the issue of online censorship in China is a disruptive and empowering intervention for young Chinese who have never had a government official ask them what they think.
Addressing Afghans - A portion of President Obama's December speech on Afghanistan was directed at Afghans themselves. Naturally, very few Afghans tuned in live on TV or on the internet (broadband penetration is around 2%), but the White House took advantage of the fact that about 30% of Afghans have mobile phones: They clipped out the 45 seconds of the speech in which he spoke to the Afghan people, and dubbed the video in Arabic, Pashto, and four other languages spoken in the region. The videos, which are available over mobile networks, have reached thousands who would not otherwise have heard Obama's words.
Texting Haiti - Just hours after an earthquake rocked Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the State Department had successfully coordinated with mGive, a mobile donations platform, to establish a shortcode so that all Americans could donate $10 by sending a single text message. Within days, a million people had sent the word "HAITI" to 90999, raising over $10 million for the Red Cross in their relief effort.
I'm greatly encouraged by the State Department's focus on this mode of engaging with the world. Since 2006, NDN and the New Policy Institute have been writing and speaking about the power of mobile technology to change our world. The application of this technology in pursuit of our foreign policy objectives is indicative of remarkable foreward thinking, and the fruit these initiatives have already borne are testament in themselves to the future potential of this kind of statecraft.
In the past few days, over 800,000 Americans have collectively donated over $9 million to support the work of the Red Cross in Haiti with a simple text message of "HAITI" to shortcode 90999. There have been a number of similar shortcodes set up, but we at NDN have been promoting this one for two reasons: First, donations to this shortcode are entirely free of fees, so all of your $10 go to the Red Cross. Second, our friends at the State Department helped facilitate this particular effort, and have given it their imprimatur.
Remarkably, this shortcode was active just a few hours after the earthquake. This came about through around-the-world coordination between our State Department, the mobile donations nonprofit mGive, and the major mobile carriers in the United States. Fortunately, mGive already had a shortcode set up for $10 donations, and so when Alec Ross, Secretary Clinton's senior adviser on innovation, called James Eberhard, chairman of mGive, and roused him from his bed in Pakistan, mGive was able to quickly modify the code to accept donations for the Red Cross's work in Haiti. The mobile carriers also stepped up, waving all fees and charges on SMS messages sent to this code.
The tragedy in Haiti is on a truly devastating scale, but it has been heartening to see Americans step up in the way they have. To the extent that this collective action has been facilitated by mobile technology, we must again be thankful for the people and organizations who helped make it possible. Haiti will be in very bad shape for years to come, but hopefully early and sustained support from the American people will play a role in getting this devastated country back on its feet.
If you want to do something to help the people of Haiti-- or do more-- then text the word Haiti to 90999 today. Your action will immediately donate $10 to the Red Cross. Using this method will ensure that all $10 go directly to the Red Cross, and the major US wireless carriers won't even charge you for the text itself. It is the most efficient means to get your money to those who need it most.
In any crisis, the response in the early days is the most important and will save the most lives. Acting now could literally save a life-- today, this weekend, or next week. So please don't wait.
If you can send this message on to others through the web, e-mail, Facebook or Twitter, please do. We just sent it to more than 25,000 on the NDN list. This method has already raised $8 million from over 700,000 people. Our hope is that we double that in the next few days. Taking this step and asking others to do so will help us reach our next important goal.
Simon & the NDN team
Mon Jan 18, 5pm Update: 90999 has now raised more than $21m, almost triple where we were when we sent this message out on Friday. Thanks to everyone who has taken part in this inspiring effort. But lets keep going my friends. We can do more.
And thanks to Arianna Huffington for putting this message from me on the front page of the Huffington Post all day on Friday. Huff Po has really stepped up. Been exciting to watch.
Over the past day and a half, it's been difficult to comprehend the horror of what's happened in Haiti. Seeing photos and eyewitness reports flood in, I, like a lot of people, have wanted to do something to help.
One thing I have been able to do is contribute a little money to the Red Cross, which is undertaking a massive rescue and recovery effort in Port-au-Prince right now. Thanks to the hard and generous work on the part of folks at mGive, the Office of Innovation at the State Department, and certain wireless carriers, it's possible to make an easy $10 donation via your mobile phone.
If you text "Haiti" to the shortcode 90999, a $10 donation will immediately transfer to the Red Cross, and the charge will show up automatically on your monthly wireless bill. Again thanks to the people and organizations above, no fees will be applied, and 100% of the donation will go to support the people of Haiti.
I would encourage everyone who can spare the $10 to make a donation immediately. We're in a narrow window in this rescue effort, and your money could help save someone's life. 48 hours from now, that might not be true.
To learn more about what's been happening in Haiti, and how else you can help, I'd encourage you to check out this page put together by our friends at MobileActive. It's one of the more comprehensive efforts I've seen, with a particular focus on telecom issues following on the earthquake.
At NDN, our thoughts are with the victims and their families.
Google, as you might have heard, threatened to pull out of China yesterday in the wake of cyberattacks that targeted the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. From Google's release:
We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech. In the last two decades, China's economic reform programs and its citizens' entrepreneurial flair have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Indeed, this great nation is at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today.
We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that "we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China."
These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.
To be sure, we'll be watching this closely, so check back for updates. In the meanwhile:
- Evgeny Morozov, the most cynical man on the internet, finds Google's motives highly dubious.
- Alec Ross, our friend at the State Department, is looking forward to Secretary Clinton's speech on web freedom next week.
I was over at the World Bank this afternoon, where they were co-hosting an event on "wired libraries" with IREX, a nonprofit working to strengthen education, independent media, and civil societies around the world. Much of the conversation centered around how governments and aid agencies should invest in extending broadband networks to libraries, which is a well-proven strategy to:
Enable access for underserved communities
Introduce people to the internet and build demand for service
Extend networks to areas that, without public support, would be money-losing investments
The e-rate program in the United States is one particularly successful public-private partnership that achieved these goals. If you're unfamiliar, E-Rate levies a small fee on telecom users, and then uses the receipts to connect public schools and libraries to broadband networks. Poland, Burundi, and Alberta, Canada have also seen successful public-private partnerships to expand broadband access.
Things got really interesting, however, when the discussion turned from services to content-- much more rarely discussed. Expanding broadband access to underserved areas is a good goal, but it's not worthwhile unless the people in those areas are able to access content that is valuable to them.
According to Paul-Andre Baran, who works for IREX wiring libraries in Romania, the first thing Romanians want from the internet is the ability to communicate, followed by access to information about educational and health care opportunities. Clearly, tools like Skype and Gmail are free and available, but who is providing information about scholarships for a student in Romania? Where can you find data about healthcare options if you live in Dorna Candrenilor?
I think there are two lessons here. First, we see that people will use broadband access as a tool for self-improvement-- whether by seeking out educational opportunities, or improving their healthcare, or some other way-- provided they have the ability to do so. This means they'll need access to a network, as well as access to the right content. A wired library and a knowledgeable librarian are the first half of the battle, but if the content isn't available online, the story ends there. And the fact is, many kinds of content are expensive to produce, and so, naturally, content that caters to the needs of the poor is a relative rarity.
So, second, if an aid agency were seeking to facilitate development through use of ICT networks, investing in putting government services online is a crucial part of their work. It would be important to listen to the potential users, to find out what content they desire-- in different places, people will want different things-- but if the agency succeeded in putting the right content online, the users could take it from there.
Investment in expanding fiber and wireless networks brings the internet to the people, but content brings the people to the internet. As we've argued before, understanding how to use computers and the internet will be crucial for anyone to succeed in the 21st century, and every government and agency needs to make it a priority to prepare their people for this new world. Content, lest we forget, is half the battle.
The last few months it sure has felt like we are hitting one of those technology lift-off moments. We’ve seen wild innovation in small mobile devices - things we used to call phones – with Droids, Nexus Ones and more fighting to keep up with Apple’s slew of path-breaking and super cool offerings. We’ve seen the emergence of two whole new categories – slate/readers (Kindles, etc) and smartbooks (between a smart phone and netbook). Twitter use has exploded, AppStores are an every day fixture and Amazon sold more e-books on Christmas day than regular books. Just as we were all figuring out the last wave a new and even more powerful one has come along, upending everything. Again.
As we absorb this whole new layer of innovation and change, I think I see where all this could be headed now. Driven by a great degree by the iphone’s historic touchscreen, which liberated mobile devices from clunky keyboards, the mid-term future will be a world of screens wired to each other through various networks and ultimately all connected together through whatever we ultimately call the single global communications network. It won’t be computers or phones per se, but intelligent screens.
These screens will have many uses and be customized. The one you have for your recipes and cooking video clips will be splatter proof, large and without a keyboard. The one you carry with you will be small, maybe even roll or fold up, and a keyboard will be optional. The screen coaches use on the field to talk to their players, show video replays, draw a new play will be built and marketed by Nike. The screen you use to read your daily stuff and watch your morning video will as big and as powerful as you want it, as it will come in dozens of different options. The computer you use to write will of course have a screen and a keyboard.
it is possible these things will no longer be called phones or computers and be called screens because the value added will increasingly be in the screen size, purpose and design and not in the computing, networked part. The computing, networked part will be (and already is to some degree) commoditized, meaning that it won’t really be an important part of your device. The important part will be its narrow, intelligent pairing of form and function, ease of use by messy hands, durability and resilience, size, weight, all that.
The key will be the screen. Of course it will be mobile, always on, loaded with computing power. That’s a given. But what will make it powerful will be the front-end, the consumer interface, its narrow, targeted utility.