I’ve been playing around with my new Nokia N95 for the last couple of weeks and quite amazed with its ability to stream live video from the phone to the Internet. Like last weekend when I streamed from the Smithsonian Kite Festival; for around 30 minutes I gave a tour of the festivities and took questions from users as they watched the stream over the Internet.
I’ve also spent some time talking it up with colleagues at NPR, brainstorming the possibilities of what would happen if reporters used these phones – or if their sources did. The example that keeps coming to mind regarding the latter scenario is the rioting in Tibet. While some video has leaked out, it’s been limited and often delayed. Imagine if the protestors were able to webcast their protests – and the ensuing crackdowns – live over their phones using China’s GSM network? The video would stream live and get crossposted via tools like YouTube, Seesmic and Twitter, spreading the content around so it can’t be snuffed.
But that raises an obvious question – how long could protestors or dissidents get away with such activities before getting caught? If you were running software on your phone to send live video over a 3G network, like I’ve been doing on my N95, you’d think it wouldn’t take too much effort on the part of the mobile provider and/or government to figure out which phone was sending the signal and its precise location.
So that got me wondering: is there a mobile equivalent of Tor?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, TOR is a software project that helps Internet users remain anonymous. Running the TOR software on your computer causes your online communications to bounce through a random series of relay servers around the world. That way, there’s no easy way for authorities to track you or observe who’s visiting banned websites. For example, let’s say you’re in Beijing and you publish a blog the authorities don’t like. If you just used your PC as usual and logged into your publishing platform directly, they could follow your activities and track you down. With Tor, you hop-scotch around: your PC might connect to a server in Oslo, then Buenos Aires, then Miami, then Tokyo, then Greece before it finally connects to your blogging platform. Each time you did this, it would be a different series of servers. That way, it’s really difficult for authorities to trace your steps.
As dissidents and protestors embrace mobile devices for conducting civil disobedience or recording human rights violations, it would make sense for Tor and projects like it to adapt to their needs. That way, if that hypothetical protestor in Lhasa tried to stream live video over Qik, post a photo to Flickr or record a mobcast via over Utterz, they’d lessen the chance of getting caught so easily.
Does anyone know if there’s a mobile equivalent of Tor, relaying voice connections or data from one network to another, anonymizing the user of the phone? If not, is it technically feasible? How might one go about creating one?
Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category
NPR’s Bryant Park Project has a fascinating audio slideshow about an ingenious protesting strategy being employed in Pakistan. Pakistani dentist and blogger Dr. Awab Alvi has taken Howard Rheingold’s concept of “flash mobs” and applied it to rallying against the state of emergency in Pakistan.
“If you announce a date a day in advance, the army and police show up” and they “beat the hell out of you,” Dr. Alvi told the show. So he concluded it made more sense to organize very brief protests through telephone calls and other communication channels. At an appointed time, the protesters show up, pull out signs and shout slogans demanding an end to the state of emergency. After 10 minutes, they put away their signs and leave before the authorities can interfere with them.
“These flash protests are basically citizens protesting in a very smart way,” Alvi said. So far the largest protest attracted around 50 protesters, who were quickly joined by random passers-by on the street. Pedestrians, though, have been somewhat puzzled by the brevity of each event.
“It’s almost called a guerilla protest,” he added.
Wish I’d come up with this… -andy
Hat tip: Tom Regan
The Associated Press is reporting that Chinese government officials have decided that the country’s 113,000 cybercafes are more than enough to support a country with a population of more than 1.3 billion people. Do the math and that works out to about one cybercafe for every 115,000 people in the general population. Let’s be generous and assume each cybercafe has 50 computers. That gives us one cybercafe computer per 2,300 people.
According to the China Internet Network Information Center, there are 137 million people in China with Internet access. Approximately 76% of them – 114 million people – access the Internet from home, compared to 32.3%, or 44 million people, relying on cybercafes. (The numbers don’t add up to 100% because some people access the Net from multiple locations.) So for those people who use the Net at cybercafes, there’s one cybercafe for every 389 people. That’s pretty good for those folks who already have access. But there are still more than 1.1 million Chinese without any form of access.
Meanwhile, approximately 23 million Chinese access the Net over mobile phones, a number that’s bound to grow as Internet phones become cheaper and data services penetrate rural areas. Soon, China will surpass the US as the country with the largest number of Internet users.
Still, you’ve got to wonder why 113,000 is the magic number for cybercafes. Perhaps it’s possible that the Chinese government is satisfied with the growth curves of at-home Internet access and mobile penetration. Or perhaps the thought of even more people publicly congregating around tools for accessing and creating open knowledge scares the living crap out of them. Maybe some Chinese policymakers will want to chime with a comment. Oh, wait a second – my blog is blocked in China. Never mind. -andy
Perhaps shaken by the long jail stint of Josh Wolf or rattled by the effect that the export of America’s Funniest Home Videos has had on Francophonie, France has decided to ban citizen journalists from recording acts of violence. As reported by MacWorld and elsewhere, the French Constitutional Council has approved a law that would criminalize the recording or broadcasting any type of violence by non-professional journalists. Take those riots that happened in France not so long ago. Whipping out your phone and recording footage of someone setting a car on fire – or getting pummelled by police for that matter – could subject you to a five-year prison term and nearly $100,000 in fines. Taking it a step further, the French government has proposed a system to regulate websites, blogs, mobile phone operators and other purveyors of content in order to offer certification that they are or aren’t government approved.
Reporters Without Borders is none too pleased with the new policy:
[A]ll Internet users are now in a position to participate in the creation and dissemination of information. They are often the “recorders” of an event, especially thanks to mobile phones with photo and video capability, and can disseminate their own content online.
These “citizen journalists” can play a role in monitoring the activities of the authorities throughout the world. In Egypt, for example, bloggers recently revealed a series of scandals involving the security services and showed, by means of video recordings made clandestinely in detention centres, that torture is still regularly practised in Egypt.
In the field of human rights, it is them and not professional journalists who have been responsible for the most reliable reports and information – the information that has most upset the government. Reporters Without Borders thinks it would be shocking if this kind of activity, which constitutes a safeguard against abuses of authority, were to be criminalized in a democratic country.
In an ironic twist, the decision was announced on the 16th anniversary of a certain George Holliday using his videocamera to tape a group of policeman beating down an African American man named Rodney King. If the incident had instead taken place today in France, I wonder if Monsieur Holliday would have hesitated grabbing that camera knowing that he could get stuck in jail until 2012. -andy
Hat tip: Farivar, Doctorow
I just uploaded a gallery of over 150 photos from today’s United for Peace anti-war rally in Washington DC. This particular photo is of a Vietnam Vet protesting the Iraq War. I believe it might be David Cline, president of Veterans for Peace, but I’m not sure. Does anyone recognize him? -andy
Meanwhile, here’s a slideshow of my photos:
Carlos Arredondo is an anti-war activist who lost his son in Iraq. In 2004, on his 44th birthday, representatives from the Marines notified him of his son’s death. In his grief he tried to set their car on fire and accidentily burned himself over a quarter of his body.