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Tools Journalists Can Use To Protect Their Work Online

In light of the recent NSA revelations, as well as the ongoing attempts to censor journalists and other online content producers by governments worldwide, I thought it would be a good idea to point out some tools available for use.

  1. WeFightCensorship.org –  Reporters Without Borders recently launched this secure portal that publishes articles, photography, video and audio that is either partially or entirely banned in countries where there is heavy censorship and surveillance.  The site has so far received content from Belarus, Brazil, China, Cuba, India, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Morocco and Syria. All news reports are published in English and French. The site also accepts articles that were originally published in Arabic, Chinese, Persian or Russian.
  2. Encrypted Documents – Jorge Luis Sierra, a Knight International Journalism Fellow, created a simple and easy-to-use tutorial on how to encrypt documents using Word for a Mac, Microsoft Word 10 documents on a PC and Open Office documents.
  3. Secure Mobile Phones – Mobile phones have become the most important tool for journalists, but these tools can easily be hacked by anyone anywhere.  Here are some ideas to consider:
    • If you live and work in an area where there is suspected or known surveillance, don’t keep any sensitive information on the mobile. If you have to, use an encryption program like TrueCrypt or a strong mobile and SIM card password.
    • Disable your Wi-Fi location or GPS and mobile data.  This will reduce the risk of tracking your location.  It also saves battery power and reduces unwanted data flow initiated by applications running remotely by your mobile carrier.
    • Consider using separate mobiles for professional and personal use.  Not only are your professional contacts and sources at risk if your mobile is lost or stolen, but the safety of your family and friends is also in jeopardy.
    • Consider hiding your identity by setting up your mobile to hide your number when you make calls.
  4. Secure Computers – The same rules above apply here as well. In addition:
    • Know Your Environment – Don’t look at sensitive information in a public space or in an open work space (cubicle).  If you have to be in public, use a laptop privacy screen filter and make sure it is password protected (and never share the password with anyone).  Never leave your laptop unattended and on. Instead, turn it off or put it into a password-protected “sleep” mode.
    • If you have to leave your computer at an office or your home, put it away in a secure place.
    • Always back up your files either in an encrypted cloud program or in a password protected external hard drive that can also be put in a secure place.  Some people recommend the external hard drive and computer be secured in separate locations.  If you have extremely sensitive information, you might want to consider having two or even three external hard drives secured in three different locations where no one would ever think of finding them.
    • Your computer becomes less vulnerable to hacking if you make sure it’s programs are kept up to date and upgraded regularly, including anti-virus programs.
  5.  Other issues to consider:
    • This article tells you signs someone is spying on your phone.
    • OrwebTor and Covert Browser (iPhones and iPads only) are apps that allow you to surf the Internet anonymously.  Most web browsers (Google Chrome, FireFox etc) have an option to browse the Internet privately as well.  Always delete your browsing history, cookies and cache.
    • ChatSecure lets Apple users chat in encrypted form, while Gibberbot encrypts the content of your instant messages.
    • There are many encrypted email services available, such as HushMail.
    • Always send or receive information – especially financial information – on websites that use Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS).  This protocol means that only you and your server can view your information which is encrypted.
    • If you use multiple passwords (a good idea), consider using KeePass a free, open-source software that allows you to save passwords using only one primary password to unlock them.

Of course, there is no absolute way to totally protect yourself from hacking or surveillance, but if you use these tools, you will have better peace of mind.

Back to the Future of Public Diplomacy

Back to the Future of Public Diplomacy

In preparation for my “busy season” – UN Week – I do my usual research on the latest trends in public diplomacy, media development and strategic communication.  As you may recall from last year, I did some interviews with those working in those fields and wrote an article on how technology is redefining diplomatic relations.  New media has created some opportunities, as well as new challenges, for public diplomacy officers worldwide.  However, in order to understand the future of this ever changing field, you have to also understand the history of strategic global communications, especially with regards to the United States.

The latest book I was given to review is also relevant to my research.  Justin Hart’s new book, Empire of Ideas: The Origins of Public Diplomacy and the Transformation of U.S. Foreign Policy, covers the origins of the “America Century, a period between 1936 and 1953 first introduced by media mogul Henry Luce, when foreign policymakers began to think about America’s image in the world and how to shape it.

Public diplomacy is a very broad term, and means different things in different countries.  For the purposes of this article, I will use definitions used by the U.S. State Department over the years.

According to the Planning Group for Integration of USIA into the State Department (June 20, 1997), “Public Diplomacy seeks to promote the national interest of the United States through understanding, informing and influencing foreign audiences.”

The United States Information Agency (USIA), the U.S. government’s public diplomacy arm and, from 1953 to 1999, the largest full service public relation organization in the world said this about their mission: “Public diplomacy seeks to promote the national interest and the national security of the United States through understanding, informing, and influencing foreign publics and broadening dialogue between American citizens and institutions and their counterparts abroad.”

Also, “Public Diplomacy refers to government-sponsored programs intended to inform or influence public opinion in other countries; its chief instruments are publications, motion pictures, cultural exchanges, radio and television,” according to the 1987 edition of the Dictionary of International Relations Terms.

big stick diplomacy

According to Empire of Ideas, the United States unofficially started doing public diplomacy with China in 1900 through educational exchanges in accordance to the Open Door Policy of 1899.  However, American public diplomacy began in earnest following the Buenos Aires Conference in 1936, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy in Latin America.  The policy was an effort to project the United States as a promoter of goodwill instead of the commonly held view at the time that it was the “Big Stick” interventionist to the North.

It was interesting to read that there were many discussions at the time about what that goodwill should look like.  Should the United States promote high culture (poetry readings, art exhibits) or popular culture (jazz music)?  Vice President Henry Wallace championed the need for more technical assistance over educational exchanges, as most of the Latin American populace worked in the agrarian sector.  Coincidentally, Wallace, a former Security of Agriculture and a farming business owner, introduced the Honeydew melon to China in the 1940s where it is still referred to today as the Wallace melon.  Wallace’s technical assistance proposals made an impact in how U.S. development aid is orchestrated today.

Since the beginning of the “America Century,” public diplomats have had to straddle the fine line between information sharing and propaganda.  There was always this dilemma of at what point does information become disinformation and a loss of credibility.  Should unfavorable information about America be countered with favorable information, avoid any appearance of justification, or should it simply be ignored?  Should American public diplomats distribute unfavorable information about America if domestic and/or foreign media is or isn’t reporting about it first?

The overarching unfavorable information the United States had to deal with internationally over the years is its dark racial history.  During World War II public diplomats had to grapple with the hypocrisy of promoting the United States as a beacon of democracy and equality to the world while at the same time treating African-Americans poorly under Jim Crow.  American public diplomats were the first U.S. policymakers to address the negative effect of American racism on the country’s image because they were the first to methodically look at image as a foreign policy issue.

The Office of War Information (OWI) created films like “The Negro Soldier” and “Negroes and the War,” as well as a 70-page pamphlet to go with the latter film, to present better images of African-Americans and boost morale.  “Negroes and the War” was intended to show white Americans the important role black soldiers played in World War II, while getting African-Americans to support the fight and this idea of “democracy.”  The OWI spent more money on “Negroes and the War” than on any other wartime material at the time. However, it back-fired as African-Americans found it patronizing and white Southerners thought it was promoting “racial equality.”  Meanwhile, “The Negro Soldier” is now considered a breakthrough film that not only rallied civilians of all races to enlist at the time, but it also changed the way African-Americans were portrayed in films going forward.

Likewise, OWI had to deal with how people of color around the world viewed the United States.  Japanese public diplomats advertised their country as the “champion of the darker races” and were fighting to expel Western colonialism to audiences in other Asian nations and, to a lesser extent, African-Americans.

Not only were American public diplomats not able to defeat Japan’s “empire of ideas,” but they were never able to effectively deal with the racial and colonial politics in the postwar era and the emerging Cold War.

When Mao Zedong’s Chinese Revolution happened in 1949, American public diplomats didn’t know how to deal with it and, in a really bad move, treated the rise of China and its concerns as if they were the same concerns as other poor countries.  Also, America’s Euro-centric approach to foreign policy didn’t help things either. When the United States developed the Marshall Plan for Europe, the colonial world viewed the project as an effort to strengthen Western colonial powers and embolden American interests.  Soviet public diplomats were able to seize on this opportunity to undermine America’s credibility by promoting the idea that the United States didn’t care about advancing the economic and development interests of the Third World.

American public diplomats also struggled with the hypocritical idea of “democracy” during the McCarthy era, when books written by suspected Communists were censored or banned altogether in USIA overseas libraries, and Congressional hearings investigated alleged Communists working for Voice of America. Public diplomats also attempted to censor Hollywood films that portrayed America in a negative light.

Today with all the new technologies available, it is easier for the U.S. government to strategically reach previously untapped populations worldwide.  From President Obama’s Cairo speech to Arab audiences, to Twitter and Facebook chats hosted by U.S. ambassadors, the Obama administration has run the most tech-savvy public diplomacy campaign in American history.

While the communication tools may have changed, the message remains the same.  Nonetheless, American public diplomats today still have to deal with going around the same unfavorable information.  Despite having an African-American president, the Trayvon Martin case and New York City’s “Stop and Frisk” policy convey to the world that America still has a race problem.  The United States promotes this idea of “democracy” and human rights, but many people around the world still believe the United States is a neo-colonial “big stick” interventionist.  The United States government promotes the idea of protecting the civil liberties of its citizens, while it allows its National Security Agency to spy on the emails and phone calls of ordinary Americans.

President Obama’s recent trip to Africa is a perfect example of modern American public diplomacy.  The main goal of the trip was to promote better economic and development ties with the continent; however, there were a few teachable moments.  The first one happened in Senegal when Obama held a very awkward joint press conference with the country’s president, Macky Sall.  A day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA); Obama took the opportunity to say that Africa should also embrace gay marriage and human rights for LGBT individuals.  To the contrary, President Sall said that the Muslim country is tolerant, but doesn’t condone homosexuality.  Furthermore, Sall pointed out that Senegal has eliminated the death penalty and that the United States hasn’t, and that both countries should respect their differences.  Many Senegalese applauded Sall standing his ground.

Obama’s faux pas can be viewed in two ways: one, by Obama imposing his own values onto another country and not understanding the full cultural context of that country; and two, Obama’s assumption that gay marriage is a universally accepted human right.  Interestingly, it is hard to find any online video of the Obama/Sall exchange.  And it is also not surprising to find very little video footage – and American media coverage – of the anti-Obama protests in South Africa.  Finally, Obama’s US$7 billion energy plan for the continent can be viewed as a goodwill contribution, or a desperate effort to catch up with the growing Chinese dominance in Africa.

So what does this all say about the future of American public diplomacy?  In order to create an effective public diplomacy campaign, the United States might need to seriously re-evaluate its own domestic and foreign policies that create unfavorable information.  As the old saying from Winston Churchill goes: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Looking Towards Renewable Energy

This year, my company Global Wire Associates is focusing its website content on disparities in accessing the digital economy and how to bridge the gap among marginalized communities.  There are two overarching issues that still restrict access.  One issue is broadband access, which ITU Secretary-General Dr. Hamadoun Touré has declared a basic human right.  The other issue is one that many of us in the West take for granted: access to electricity.

Approximately 1.6 billion people in the world are living without access to electricity. Electricity is still very unaffordable and unreliable in many parts of the developing world.  Most of these people use wood, coal or even dung to heat and cook in their homes, which can result in indoor air pollution that kills 1.6 million people a year.  Furthermore, those without regular access to electricity can’t recharge their electronics and participate on the Internet.  Because so much of our lives – particularly employment and education – are largely dependent on technology today, it is not in anyone’s interest to be left behind in the digital economy.

Last week I met and talked with Dr. Richard Komp, founder of the solar energy firm SkyHeat Associates.  He is one of the leading experts on solar technology and sustainable development.  He started working with passive solar and radiant heating technologies in 1951, and has literally taught hundreds of workshops on the topic of Photovoltaics (PV) around the world.

Komp is a strong believer in solar energy bridging technological equality.  He also practices what he preaches.  He designed and built his off-the-grid Maine home with solar panels on top of it and a thermal hot water system more than thirty years ago.  He says it allows him to lead a simple, inexpensive, and more fruitful life.

“I haven’t paid an electric bill in more than 25 years,” he said.

Komp has spread his solar knowledge with many people in Nicaraugua, Haiti, India and Zimbabwe over the years, building everything from solar cell phone chargers to biogas generating bathrooms.  He was also involved with supporting Daniel Dembele, a young Malian man who started his own solar panel firm Afriq-Power.  Dembele’s story was made into the documentary called Burning in the Sun.

President Obama recently promised US$7 billion for “Power Africa,” a new initiative to double electricity access on the continent.  While any investment on this vital issue is welcomed, many analysts still have questions about the project, ranging from US$7 billion not being enough to the money really going into the pockets of Big Business.

There is also the issue that the initiative might come into conflict with Obama’s climate plans.  Todd Moss of the Center for Global Development doesn’t see why electricity access and climate action have to conflict with each other.

“More than half the people in low-income neighborhoods in Nairobi and Dakar have no access to electricity,” Moss said. “For reaching urban centers and powering industrial zones, you’ll likely need traditional large-scale power plants. And current U.S. rules are keeping businesses out of that area.”  However, he also said that clean energy solutions would make more sense in areas that are far off-the-grid.

There have been many efforts recently to look at large scale renewable energy solutions.  The African Development Bank has embarked on an ambitious project to increase geothermal prospecting throughout East Africa.  This is the process of drilling geothermal regions, where hot fluids drive turbines for electricity.  The Bank will focus on building geothermal units in the East African Rift Valley.

Solar power is also being used to bridge the broadband divide.  Microsoft announced in February that it was collaborating with the Kenyan government to deliver affordable, solar-powered broadband access through white space technology.  Microsoft’s project is similar to one in South Africa just announced by Google, which uses three base stations for ten schools.

“You’re talking about delivering broadband access to communities without any electricity whatsoever, without paved roads; all these things we take as normal don’t exist in these communities,” said Paul Garnett, director of technology policy at Microsoft. “It’s exciting to be in schools where kids have never used the Internet before. Within 90 seconds they’re surfing the ‘Net, they’re using a touchscreen, and they’re off and running. It’s an amazing thing.”

Renewable energy isn’t the complete solution to electricity access, but it will contribute greatly in helping more people have better lives.

Living in a Surveillance World

The NSA scandal is much bigger than the government having access to our communications.  This is really more about how our way of life and civil liberties are being invaded and have evolved over the last 60 years.  I remember reading George Orwell’s 1984 when I was in high school, thinking to myself if it was ever possible for a government to spy on its own citizens, and how much surveillance they are really doing.  Surveillance is not a new thing, of course.  The reality here is that governments have been spying on citizens for a long time.

Orwell’s classic was published at the advent of the Cold War and the intelligence age, when both the Soviets and Americans were not only spying on each other, but also on its own citizenry.  Whether the KGB was monitoring participants of the Hungarian Uprising or Joesph McCarthy was going after anyone with rumored Communist sympathies, the thought police rose to fame during this period.  J. Edgar Hoover took spying to a whole new level when he personally monitored people he didn’t like, such as Emma Goldman, Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and the Black Panthers.

After the Cold War, government surveillance concerns didn’t spring up again until the September 11 attacks, when President Bush instituted the Patriot Act to gather intelligence from within the United States.  In 2011 President Obama signed in a four-year extension, which includes roving wiretapping and monitoring “lone wolf” terrorists.

So the NSA row doesn’t come as a surprise to me, but I can understand why it might surprise the rest of America.  Prior to this, it was just understood that government surveillance was only being done on so-called “bad people” trying to subvert the country. The NSA maintains that they are only monitoring terrorists and have allegedly thwarted “dozens of terrorist plots.”  But for some reason, they overlooked the terror plot by lone wolves Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  But, hey, what do I know?

Red flags went up for me back last October when Janet Napolitano gave a talk on Homeland Security’s role in protecting the nation from cyber attacks.  When asked about her own habits in protecting her online presence, she simply stated that she didn’t use email.  She claims it’s for “a whole host of reasons.”  But I guess we all know why now.

I use social media a lot, so I understand that what you put out in public is public.  But the email and phone hacking of ordinary citizens gives us all an extra dose of uneasiness since these communication tools are suppose to be more private.  Even the hacking of Blackberrys – apparently the most secure mobiles on the market – during the 2009 G20 summit in London is unnerving.  If anything, the emergence of personal technology has only made it easier for the government to monitor anyone.

Regarding Ed Snowden, is he a hero or a traitor?  It is still too soon to call, but the U.S. media smear campaign is just as unnerving.  If you only follow the American press, you would think Snowden was a narcissistic, high school dropout/spy for the Chinese with an overly paid government contract job.  It’s funny how quick the media forgot that Obama’s administration was monitoring them too.

Will the recent disclosure change America’s personal online and phone habits? Probably not – for now.  Will Obama stop doing this kind of surveillance? Probably not – for now.  Maybe for now we can begin to have the discussion about the future of surveillance and protection of civil liberties for everyone.

In the meantime, while Obama believes the War on Terror is over, does this mean this is the beginning of the War on Surveillance?