Pakistan is the latest state to pursue the creation of a national Internet filtering and blocking system, according to Reporters Without Borders, the media monitoring group.
The news follows recent revelations that the Islamic Republic of Iran is also trying to develop a closed national ‘net and ramping up its capacity to monitor, censor and contest cyberspace – with technical assistance from China.
After the Arab Spring demonstrated the utility of the Internet and social networks as tools for protest and mobilization, a predictable backlash by autocratic regimes generated a series of measures to contest cyberspace and subvert ‘liberation technology’ for repressive purposes.
Technology has had a variable impact: facilitating communications and empowering activists, while arguably nurturing a Facebook fallacy or ‘e-llusion’ that virtual networks of slacktivists are a viable alternative to grass roots organizing.
But new ICT can also both enhance politicians’ accountability and highlight the importance of interpersonal contact, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently observed.
“There’s no substitute for good old-fashioned shoe leather,” she told The Economist:
It’s ironic, in a way, that we live in this cyber virtual reality. It’s almost as though people demand to see more of you than they did before because they want to make sure you’re not taking them for granted, that you really will listen to them, that you’ll see things from their perspective. So we’ve invested a lot in beginning to build relationships.
The LEND Network (Leaders Engaged in New Democracies) is the latest such investment.
Launched today in partnership with Estonia, the initiative aims to help leaders in emerging democracies access the experience and insights of counterparts who have successfully navigated transitions. Drawing on expertise from the Club of Madrid‘s (left) network of democratically elected former presidents and prime ministers, and 21st century technologies developed by Google and OpenText, the LEND Network “will augment face-to-face meetings with ongoing peer-to-peer exchanges via a secure virtual platform,” the US State Department announced today:
The project will deploy tools for online voice, video, and text communication along with new translation technology to address the cost and logistical barriers that have limited such efforts in the past.
The LEND Network fills a crucial need. Currently, there is no online platform to facilitate real-time information sharing between leaders in new democracies and leaders who have undergone democratic transitions. The Network will provide a global forum for exchanging information and expertise on democratization from more than twenty countries and support leaders as they work to build strong, accountable institutions and establish the rule of law.
Launched under the rubric of the Community of Democracies, a Working Group on the LEND Network will be led by Dr. Tomicah Tillemann, Secretary Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies, and Ambassador Merle Pajula, Director of Policy Planning for the Foreign Ministry of Estonia.
For more information, contact Jeff Holiday in the Office of the Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Civil Society and Emerging Democracies at HolidayJD@state.gov.