Going into ICT4D, I was really unsure of what to expect. I had taken three development classes prior, but as someone who has always considered themself as not the best with technology, the initial idea I had of the class did not really get my gears going. Fortunately however, this class definitely surprised me for the better. Through our country specific studies, I was able to realize what a relevant role technology was playing in the shaping of global politics. It amazed me to learn how fast the speed of introducing new technologies, and how desperately both developing and developed governments are trying to keep up with the constant rate of change. Furthermore, having Syria as my country of interest, really exposed me to the constant effect that social media is having amidst a brutal civil war. The fact that Skype is being used as a tool for danger by the Syrian government and the Syrian public is able to organize full-fledged protests via facebook and twitter speaks incredibly highly of the level of impact that social media and technologies have on global and internal affairs. I also really enjoyed the class discussions following the presidential election because it got met to look at the campaigns from a very different standpoint. As a political science major, I often find myself really wrapped up in the debate and constant slander of the presidential campaigns. However through ICT4D, I was able to look the election from a far more unbiased view, and look at it from the angle that shows how technology is dictating how Americans view the candidates. In essence, I really enjoyed how this class got me to take a technological perspective on global issues, and it really shed light on what type of effect it has.
One lesson that really stuck with me throughout the class was that when addressing the digital divide, there is truly so much more that needs to be considered other than just actually getting new technology to places that it is not. Rather, technologies should be relevant to the community it is being implemented in, and it should be filling some sort of void and addressing a need for that specific community. It made me realize that there are plenty of projects that do just fail because they lack relevance to the community, and it simply is not needed. Additionally, it can be seen that in certain instances and communities implementing new technologies are not always the best idea, because you need to consider the potential for the community to not embrace the new idea. This class offered me a lot of new perspectives not only on the global and political stage, but also in the development stage, really making me realize ways to effectively address community needs through new forms of technology.
Another component that I really enjoyed in the class was the Twitter assignment. I had never used twitter before, and I found it incredibly useful keeping me a lot more engaged and involved in the class. The Twitter caused me to look up profiles of the people we discussed, and gain some degree of background knowledge to some of the big players in the world of ICT. My only real complaint with the class was that I really was not a huge fan of the Skype lectures or even Q&A sessions. For whatever reason, I find that this is one of those instances where technology tries to overcompensate for something that a traditional classroom setting just does better. I find it really hard to be engaged when someone is taking to me over a computer and there is no real in-class presence that is keeping me attentive. Maybe that’s just me, but I just think that there is something about having a physical teacher in the classroom that is comparatively invaluable. With that being said, this class definitely exceeded my expectations, and got me really interested in something that I normally would have definitely tried to steer away from.
Upon the shutting down of the Syrian nation’s complete internet network by oppressive leader, Bashir Al-Assad, the Syrian rebels have found themselves their own technology in order to compensate for communication fallacies: Skype. Despite Al-Assad being the self-proclaimed “father of the internet” and a supposed catalyst to the recent technological revolution of Syria, he recently decided to completely cut the internet network this past Thursday in order to interrupt rebel communications between the Syrian revolutionaries. With that being said, the Syrian Rebel front has proved themselves to be adapting to Al-Assad’s increasingly panicked oppression. For months, Syrian rebels have been smuggling in handheld devices and mobile devices in order for themselves to communicate from battalion to battalion via Skype. The application runs almost completely without any sort of Internet connection, provided that there is some mobile connectivity, so rebels have used the program to communicate news stations, allied factions in other nations as well as each other. Unfortunately however, Skype’s capabilities make it much easier for the Syrian government to capitalize on 3G location services that can actually give them the direct physical location of the rebels. Furthermore, the Syrian government has been able to induce malware into rebel applications which can furthermore capture even more information regarding the rebels’ intentions.
All in all, it almost pains me to see that the Syrian rebels can’t catch a break despite them learning to overcompensate in order to battle pro-government factions. While the fallacies of Skype are undoubtedly evident, it is clear that they cannot be blamed considering that they did not anticipate themselves being the main social medium dictating a full-scale civil war in the Middle East. I hope that the Syrian rebel forces find the capacity to defeat the governmental forces, I am just genuinely curious to learn what more types of technology will be used through this war which has been heavily influenced by the social media.
According to the latest Google Transparency report, it becomes safe to say that government surveillance on the internet and in cyberspace is clearly on the rise. According to the latest Transparency report, Google has fielded 20,938 requests for private account data from governments around the world from January until June of this year alone. According to the last transparency report of 2011, Google had only reported 18,257 such requests. Google comes out with this bi-annual report in order to essentially “shine a light” on how international governments ask to access user data as a part of criminal investigations. According to the reports, the United States seems to be the most curious of governments, with India as a trailing second. Despite the fact that Google is rather proactive in protecting user information and user rights, in the end they frequently turn over requested information. Google however chooses to cooperate with United States law enforcement more than any other nation. This is largely due to outdated laws that allow government agencies to conduct electronic surveillance without the possession of ay warrants. Google has since played as an active member of the Digital Due Process Coalition which has been pushing to reform the outdated electronic surveillance laws. Revising these laws wouldn’t necessarily prohibit the government from requesting data, it would just require them to request an approval process in order to obtain warrants.
In my opinion, I am undoubtedly in support of Google’s pursuit in finding a way to reform new electronic surveillance laws. In light of the recent General Petraeus scandal, I find it rather alarming that the government was able to access so much of the General’s private history dating back to ridiculous personal emails in his Gmail account. I think it is about time that our laws get up to speed with the rate of technology because as our guest speaker Mr. Russo said, it is opening up a plethora of doors that I don’t think anyone necessarily wants to see open. With that being said I thing law reform is in order and well take place soon enough, because frankly if it doesn’t, I’m sure we will learn the hard way.
This past September, the HEROIC (Hazard, Emergency Response, and Online Informal Communication) Project Team, a research team hailing from the University of Colorado, and the University of California-Irvine, recently released a study in which they uncovered twitter trends that occur in the light of natural disasters. They completed their study based on the occurrence of the Waldo Canyon Fire that occurred in Colorado this past June. The fire impacted more than 32,000 residents of the Colorado Springs Area, and resulted in more than $352 million in insurance claims. From the start of the disaster, there were a recorded 100,000 related “tweets” from over 25,000 Twitter users. Following the study, the HEROIC discovered some valuable information regarding the trends of tweets during disasters: 1. Original content is most often produced by local-organizations and then re-tweeted by non-locals. 2. Inclusion of URLs shows that response organizations recognize the need to have additional information available outside of Twitter. 3. Highly active government organizations get the most followers following an event, and the largest of local organizations come in second.
While these types of findings are not groundbreaking by any means, what I think they provide is appropriate tools for us to learn how to use twitter as more than a social media outlet, but more so as a tool and catalyst to disaster relief. The study can definitely help local and national organizations not only better their tweets, but also the timeliness of them and exactly what they should say in order to get their message across as effective as possible. With that being said, I hope they can redo these studies in light of more impactful natural disasters that had more national repercussions such as Hurricane Sandy, because I don’t feel like this specific study covers the whole breadth of twitter as much as I would have liked them to.
According to the United Nation’s 2012 report on e-Governance rankings, the once soviet nation of Kazakhstan has emerged as a worldwide leader in e-governance participation, garnering second place, which is shared with Singapore, a veteran member of the top of the rankings. While the UN rankings make it a point to highlight developing nation’s efforts to emerge in the world of e-government, it showcases Kazakhstan as a cut above the rest. Through a main focus in population education, coupled with the essential streamlining of basic government processes such as tax filing, business applications, and birth certificates, the Kazakh government has bolstered the speed and convenience of government-public interactions like never before. According to the article, any Kazakh entrepreneur is able to apply for business liscences and permits, as well as print them out within fifteen minutes.
As of the report, the Kazakh e-government portal is reported to receive 25,000 people daily, and 1,200,000 services were delivered to citizens alone. 60% if key services are to be transferred to electronic format by 2013, and 100% of citizen relevant services are to be transferred by 2014. However, the article makes it a point to recognize that theses successes did not occur overnight. With an average age of only 30 years nationwide, the Kazakh government instituted the education sector as a top priority. The nation is investing in a project to ensure affordable distance learning across Kazakhstan.
With that being said, I think Kazakhstan’s recent efforts definitely teach us a great deal about how other developing nations should go about improving their sectors. Kazakhstan definitely teaches us a valuable lesson in starting from the ground up: Great governments come from well-educated students and well-informed students. Developing nations should look to invest in education as a long-term investment for the assurance for a more stable government in the future: because, after all, the children in school now will be the inevitably be the future to come for any nation.
Recently, in response to the killings of four American diplomatic personnel in Libya, Google decided, in an unorthodox move to censor an inflammatory anti-Muslim video surfacing on the Internet, blocking it in both Egypt and Libya. The video surfaced on YouTube, and is said to be ridiculing the prophet Muhammad. Google claimed, that this move was incredibly unusual and was purely provoked by the exceptional circumstances. The video was a catalyst to outrage over the Muslim world from Afghanistan to Libya with the populace calling on the United States to take actions against the video’s producers. While the overarching question comes into play regarding freedom of speech, and whether or not Google was in the right to actually block the video. The fact remains that they have steadfastly stood by keeping up multiple questionable and offensive posts and videos.
Regardless, the reason I even chose to bring up the article was more closely related to its ties to globalization and its connections to the digital divide. First off, I find it quite incredible that an American-run company that essentially controls the Internet in itself is able to control how information is dispersed and specifically what facts and what information is getting to each specific country. It furthermore shows that the birth of the Internet and its integration into society from all walks of life throughout the world has practically made the world a much smaller place. That while there is the more obvious digital divide in directly in some places based on the juxtaposition of those who have technology and those who don’t, an even greater digital divide can be seen on a grander scale: those who control the technology and those who don’t. It brings into question the international scale of freedom of speech, and the increased role of technology, and whether or not a new scale of law is in order, for the sake of protecting everyone’s natural rights.