Technology of Liberation? Activists Get their Own Smartphone

Culled from:The Huffington Post (Click here for original article).

You’re in a jail in a remote region of southwestern China. The men who arrested you have confiscated your mobile phone, which contains photos of a Public Security Bureau official brutally beating a young man who organized a protest over the working conditions in a local salt mine. No one knows where you are and the police officer sitting opposite you is not smiling.

But what he doesn’t know is that you have already used your phone to send the photos over the Internet to a prominent human rights organization who has distributed it to the international press. Your phone has automatically replied to a text message inquiry as to your whereabouts with your GPS coordinates. A friend is on her way to the jail in a jeep with a civil rights lawyer, and your detention is already being discussed in Congress. The same friend has remotely erased all incriminating material off your mobile. Without evidence, the police have no choice but to set you free with a warning.

The Guardian–a revolutionary mobile phone software–will embody a number of such James-Bond-like features especially designed with these situations in mind. Its developer, Nathan Frietas, who has been writing code since he was eight years old, is one of a growing community of digital specialists who are bringing their skills and knowledge to social justice causes. He describes Guardian as “the first open-source, secure, privacy-focused mobile phone with a target user base of activists, human rights advocates–people working for good and change within difficult circumstances.” Open source describes an approach to the design, development, and distribution of software that allows public access to the source code, and encourages peer-based collaboration to customize the source code for the needs of specific users.

“The exciting thing is that this software is being developed already around the world by many different open-source developers,” says Freitas. “Guardian, in a sense, is pulling these pieces together.”

Guardian’s software is especially designed for privacy and security, including a foundational network that protects anonymity and offers secure web access. Internet use is the critical issue of mobile phone security, as mobile phone operators generally have much more control over their networks than do Internet providers. Guardian also offers encrypted SMS, voice messaging and walkie talkie options, ingenious ways to hide information, and instant one button erase all for sensitive content. The software will also include custom citizen journalist tools as activists often find themselves playing the role of reporters in places where access by independent journalists has been restricted.

Tenzin Dorjee, Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet, sees the Guardian phone as “a game-changing tool” for social justice movements. He points out how Tibetans routinely get arrested, tortured and imprisoned for phone conversations that are tracked and censored by Chinese authorities.

Freitas himself served for four years on the board of Students For a Free Tibet and Guardian was directly inspired by his experience with Tibet activists. A former senior manager at Palm, the mobile technology company responsible for the Palm Pilot, he became frustrated by stories of activists having to resort to eating their SIM-cards or smashing their phone and flushing them down the toilet. “You have to do something better than eating SIM-cards and flushing mobiles.”

The Center for American Progress agrees. In a recently published report, the liberal think tank calls on the US government to take steps to apply technologies such as mobile phones to the issue of human rights abuses, and proposes direct collaboration between human rights workers and new technology researchers and developers.

“As new technologies are discovered, new human rights applications will emerge,” the report reads. “If the US government is to be the global human rights leader its citizens want it to be, it will need to ensure that human rights are a principal beneficiary of the development of cutting-edge innovations.”

The Guardian software is designed to be compatible with Google Android mobile phones, 18 variations of which will be on the market by the end of 2009. Anyone who buys an Android phone and has Internet access will be able to upgrade to Guardian for free, says Freitas. “The vision is that some young person somewhere in the world goes to a night market, picks up an HTC [Android] phone, downloads the software off the internet, and we’ve enabled someone to have this phone in their pocket. ” Once someone downloads the file onto a secure digital (SD) card, they can then pass the software from one phone to another, by-passing the Internet.

Security phones with encrypted voice and SMS messaging that scrambles the data into a form that can’t be understood by unauthorized people, already exist. But their price tag puts them beyond the reach of the average user. The idea of Guardian is to create a crypto-phone that is accessible for everyone. Don’t get an iphone, says Freitas, because AT&T shares its user information with the US government and Apple is close-sourced. According to Freitas, Blackberry’s developer, Research in Motion, has collaborated with various authoritarian states “and doesn’t make clear what they’ve compromised in their security.” Do not buy these products, he says, “because you can’t trust them.”

Guardian looks destined to become a must-have for human rights defenders the world over. But activists aren’t the only people interested in protecting their privacy and security, and the projections for Android phones puts Guardian on the breaking end of a potentially massive wave. Analysts predict that by 2012, Android will become the world’s 2nd most popular smartphone platform, pushing iPhone into 3rd place, and that the shipment of Android phones will close in on 32 million by the following year.

Ben Wood, an analyst with CCS Insight, told the BBC that social networks “are the fuel propelling the momentum,” behind an anticipated explosion in the sales of smartphones next year–a market that has proved persistently resilient to the global recession. While the rest of the world is exchanging jokes, pick up lines and film reviews, however, civil resistance groups and activists are using communications technology to more effectively network and organize against authoritarian states. This is an example of what Patrick Meier calls an irevolution–the merger of technology and individual empowerment that he believes has the potential to change the balance of power between repressive regimes and resistance movements in favor of the resisters. Meier, a doctoral research fellow at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, sees the Guardian phone as one example of the “technologies of liberation” to emerge from this union.

But Meier is quick to point out that authoritarian states will naturally respond by stepping up their own systems of control. “Just at the same time as civil resistance groups, civil society groups, and transnational networks, are starting to leverage these technologies to create more transparency and accountability, obviously repressive regimes are not going to just sit still and watch that happen.”

It’s a good bet that states like China that have become expert in managing citizen access to information, will respond to Guardian by stepping up their monitoring and filtering technologies. And if these attempts are successful, then people working against the interests of authoritarian states may be making themselves more vulnerable by using these phones, especially since their increased sense of protection will encourage them to act less cautiously with politically sensitive information.

“In the state-of-the-arts censorship system in China, there is a great need for technology that provides secure data and communication tools, says Sharon Hom, the Executive Director of Human Rights in China. “The Guardian phone could be empowering, depending upon specific functions, ease of use, and price–and its ability to stay ahead of the censors.” It’s this ability to stay ahead of the censors (and hackers) that will be the measure of Guardian’s success.

Greg Walton, a fellow at Toronto University with the think tank SecDev and consultant for Psiphon–a human rights software project whose censorship circumvention software is part of the Guardian package–is cautiously optimistic about Guardian’s future. In the Spring of 2009, his group at Toronto exposed “Ghostnet”–an international computer spy ring that had infiltrated embassies and government offices around the world. Walton is part of Psiphon’s “red team” that attempts to hack its own technologies to find possible security weaknesses that the “black hat” hackers (i.e. the bad guys) might manage to exploit.

Walton describes Freitas as a “software curator” bringing together the best of open-sourced software. “It may seem counter-intuitive,” he says, “but people have made very strong cases for the inherent security of open source software.” This is because anyone can download the code and read it line by line, looking to see if it’s been tampered with. “Because the code is openly available to hundreds and thousands of developers, it’s far more likely that they’re going to discover security vulnerabilities in the software than were the codes proprietary or close-sourced, as is the case with Microsoft, for example, where there is a very limited pool of software engineers looking for flaws and vulnerabilities.”

Walton is the author of a seminal study analyzing China’s censorship and surveillance systems. If Guardian proves to become the tool of choice for activists, he says, “the Chinese state is going to mobilize significant resources both technical and human, to monitor and block networks of people using it.” He points out that China now leads the world in internet censorship, a technology that was once believed to be impervious to government interception.

“It’s definitely an arms race,” admits Freitas, who envisions keeping one step ahead of the “black hat” hackers through regular system upgrades that can be easily downloaded, much like Firefox.

The trend of toys for social fraternizing becoming tools for social change is on the rise. Twitter did not define the post-election Iranian protests, but it galvanized international concern by bringing the living rooms of the world into the dust, terror and excitement of the streets of Tehran. Perhaps more importantly, it created a forum to unite the personal and real-time narratives of ordinary people that not only challenged state propaganda but made it seem silly.

The Guardian phone may well have a similar role to play in future movements. And as ordinary citizens gain increased access to secure communications technologies, the autocracies of the world may find it increasingly difficult to dominate the story.

Rebecca Novick is a writer and founding producer of The Tibet Connection radio program online at



Despite the abundant resources Nigeria is blessed with, there is still prevalent poverty in the land. This is due to lack of patriotism, commitment and judicious use of available resources; otherwise the campaign against poverty would have been unnecessary in Nigeria.”   —-Alh. Dr. Abdulmumuni Kabir Usman (HRH Emir of Katsina)

PADEAP NIGERIA Stand Up campaigners in Northwest Nigeria have mobilized more than 3 million people (over three times the number that stood up in 2008) to Stand Up and Take Action against poverty and demonstrate their resolve to continue to support the MDGs.

From school assemblies, worship places, public rallies, symposia, symbolic events and media programmes all over the zone, citizens sent a unified and even stronger message to all stakeholders to intensify efforts of putting an end to poverty.

PADEAP started the events by holding a ‘Talakawa’ summit in Zamfara. The approach adopted by PADEAP is to localize and advocate for grassroots ownership of the campaign. Everyone present participated in the campaign putting their leaders at the national, state and local levels on notice that their promises to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 must be met – no more delays or excuses are acceptable!

In partnership with Zamfara based Peace Education Development Organization, (PEDO) Nigeria, The talakawa summit aimed to address the fundamental problem in good governance, the wide chasm that exists between elected representatives and their constituents. Interaction between these important groups in governance is very crucial to the actualization of the MDGs. This is exactly what the summit focused on.

During the event PADEAP Programes Director focused on Goal Number 5 ‘ It is unjust and cruel that Nigerian women continue to die of avoidable causes during pregnancy and child birth. Government and their partners in development need to develop national Action Plans for the reduction of maternal mortality. Women, community groups and local health providers need to participate in these plans to ensure plans reflect local realities. Time for action is now. Women must not continue to die giving life! —— Tominke C. Olaniyan PADEAP international Programmes Director

Key “Stand Up and Take Action” events included:

Schools Stand Up Activities:

Stand up campaigners this year partnered with Ministries of Education in Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara States to observe Stand up moments during school assemblies in secondary schools. Over a million youth and children in over 800 schools were mobilized via this channel. PADEAP also held stand up events in Ahmadu Bello University Zaria and Usman Dan-Fodio University Sokoto. Ahmadu Bello University remains the largest conventional University in the whole of West Africa.

Stand Up Take Action events in Churches and mosques:

High number of participants in this year’s Stand up campaign came from worship places, especially the mosques. Worshippers in all Northwest Nigeria stood up for good governance which is a necessary requisite in the fight against poverty. This notable break through was achieved by the overwhelming support the campaign obtained from the community of Ulamas in the zone. Thousands also stood up during church services and prayed for political will for government to deliver more on the MDGs.

Other Stand Up Events:

Public Rally events: Public sensitization rallies were organized in all States in collaboration with trade unions, CBOs and commercial transport road workers to further raise public awareness on the MDGs.  Special cooking events were organized on the 16th to commemorate the International Food Day, which was incorporate into the campaign period this year. Also, in a symbolic event farmers in Kebbi State competed in a donkey race to raise awareness on environmental degradation due to desert encroachment. In Kaduna State, a debate was organized between two secondary schools on the Topic: ”Achievement of the MDGs: who is most responsible?” the debate was held inside the Kaduna State of Assembly chambers with most law makers in the state observing.

The people have the power to create whatever change they want including eradicating poverty! — Haj. Hajara Samaila (Principal, Government Girls’ Secondary School Funtua)

About PADEAP Nigeria

Pan African Development Education and Advocacy Programme, (PADEAP), has been working in Funtua, Katsina State since 2000. We seek solutions to African problems using pan-African approaches. In Nigeria, we run a public resource centre; an open space for access to information and interaction on global education. Our adult literacy for women, youth peer education and rights education programmes are mediums through which we create a vehicle of education and advocacy for sustainable development in local communities.


An email sent yesterday, by the Millenium Campaign to participants of the 2009 SUTA.


More than 173 Million People Gather at “Stand Up, Take Action, End Poverty Now!” events, setting new world record for largest mobilization in history

A Guinness World Record shattered this weekend when 173,045,325 citizens gathered at over 3,000 events in more than 120 countries, demanding that their governments eradicate extreme poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). “Stand Up, Take Action, End Poverty Now!”, now in its fourth year, has been certified by Guinness World Records as the largest mobilization of human beings in recorded history, an increase of about 57 million people over last year. Continue reading


Email from the Millenium Campaign:

Dear Stand Up Supporters,

It has been an exciting weekend so far. Millions of people across the world have stood up to take action against poverty. We want to remind you there is still time for you to join the cause before the weekend is up. We invite you to take action online right here, right now.


Simple. Just go to Scroll down to the lower right hand corner of the page. You will see an image of two people sitting and text that says, “Today. Stand up and be counted.” Just click the “Stand Up Now!” button and follow the steps. That’s it!


Just add the widget to your website, blog, or various social networks sites that allow HTML embeds. Go to: You will see an area that says, “Get embed code” Just hit the button, and Copy code. Add this html to your website, and you are done.


1.5 million Stand Up in Nepal

GCAP Nepal has registered 1.5million people taking part in Stand Up and Take Action so far and they have sent in some pictures of the mobilisation. They expect to mobilise 2 million people by the end of the weekend! Congratulations, Nepal. See more >

Rome-based Agencies and UN MIllennium Campaign Europe organise joint SUTA event at FAO’s

Rome-based Agencies and UN MIllennium Campaign Europe organize joint SUTA event in FAO headquarters. Eveline Herfkens, Founder of the UN Millennium Campaign and famous American athlete Carl Lewis warn about hunger and poverty in the South of the world. 600 staff members attend the event; fifty of them surprise the audience with a flash mob on the rhythms of famous Stand Up songs. See more >

National Climate Justice Hearing In Peru: Live broadcast today 19:00GMT

Representatives from regions most affected by climate change will be presenting testimonies on how their lives have been affected by what the UN has now declared the greatest security threat facing the world climate change. See more >


Once you’ve added the widget to your site, it’s now time to spread the word and encourage your friends, family, and like-minded individuals to sign the widget action October 17-18.

1) Add this line to your status message on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites Oct 16 -18: Help! I’m standing up to end poverty today. Come join me @ [enter your website]

2) Use this email signature at the bottom of all your emails: Join my online campaign to end poverty on October 17-18 @[enter your website]

3) Email all your friends, let them know about your personal Stand Up event and direct them to your website on October 17-18

4) Use your blog for good.

Make a posting about the Stand Up cause and encourage everyone you know to take action on your website Oct 17-18.


UN Secretary General Stand UP!

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited to the United Nations International School (UNIS) in New York today to address students about the Millennium development Goals and the fight against poverty and to lead the school in a Stand Up Action. Read more >

Copyright © 2009

SUTA 2009: What you and your friends can do to take actions this year!


2 – HELP US GROW. Invite all your Facebook friends to ‘Fan’ this new page.

3 – SHARE. Interact, share, like and comment on posted articles, photos, videos and status updates.

4 – TAKE ACTION. Go to to learn how to participate in the 2009 Stand up Action, Oct 16-18.

5. SHOW FLAG. Download our Stand Up Champion Banner here:
and upload it as your Facebook profile picture for the next 2.5 weeks.

6. ACT ONLINE. If you can’t join a “Stand Up” event in person, you can participate virtually from October 16 – 18, 2009. Tell friends that have their own website to take action by going to the website and clicking “register” – just like you would for any other event. Once you verify your email, just check the box that says “Online event” in Step One of the Event registration process. At the end of the registration, you’ll get an embed code to use on your website. That’s it!

Forward this message to a friend!

Nigeria ranks low in Harvard governance index

Originally reported here.

Nigeria is, once again, on the wrong end of a survey of the best governed African countries.

The 2009 Annual Index of African Governance released by the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Governance last weekend, ranks Nigeria 38 on the governance list of 53 countries in Africa, making it the sixteenth worst governed on the continent.

In the report, Nigeria only scores better than countries such as Togo, Ethiopia, Guinea Bissau, and Sierra Leone.

The publishers of the report, the World Peace Foundation, highlighted the core issues that led to this low ranking. The report said, “Nigeria, despite its vast oil wealth, suffers as in previous years by weak scores for safety and security, participation, rule of law, and human development.”

This confirmed the statement made last week by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, at the Corporate Council on Africa’s Seventh Biennial US/Africa Business Summit in Washington. Mrs. Clinton described the situation in Nigeria as “heartbreaking”, saying that “the number of people facing food security and health challenges is going up… because the revenues have not been well managed”.

This year’s governance report shows that Mauritius, Seychelles, and Cape Verde – all small Islands – are Africa’s three best governed countries. At the bottom of the list are Chad, Sudan, and Somalia.

For the first time, the index includes North African countries. Tunisia and Algeria are in the top 10. Even though Tunisia’s human rights record is described as “appalling”, the country is rated high in terms of human development, economic opportunity and security. Its scores in these areas somehow compensate for its parlous human rights record.

South Africa, however, slipped to ninth position in the ranking. This, producers of the report said, is due to the country’s low scores in the areas of respect for civil and political rights and the rule of law.

The 2009 Index of African Governance used 57 indicators, including maternal mortality, gross domestic product per capita, respect for human rights and judicial independence, to rate governance in the continent’s 53 nations. The survey, which produced the report was coordinated by Robert Rotberg and Rachel Gisselquist of the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

For a better life

The authors said, in a statement, that “bettering the lives of all of Africa’s peoples is the overriding purpose of the index. By noting which indicators lag and which have advanced, governments can improve the outcomes for their populations”.

Quality of governance

They also recommended that African countries can improve the quality of governance by allowing “citizens to choose their leaders, that is, to bring to political office, leaders chosen in free, fair, and competitive elections”.

The index provides both a new definition of governance, as well as a comprehensive set of governance measures. Based on five categories of essential political goods, each country is assessed against 58 individual measures, capturing several outcomes and offering a report card on the accomplishments of each country.

Read the full Harvard Report on Africa governance here.

Full Text of Hillary Clinton’s Speech in Abuja Town Hall Meeting

“No matter how much President Obama and I want this future for you, it will be up to you to decide whether it happens or not. You are the ones with both the opportunity and the responsibility. But I want you to know, as you walk this path to a stronger democracy that produces results for your people to lift the development of Nigeria up, that you will have us by your side”. Hillary Clinton

Well, I am absolutely delighted to be here. I’m very grateful to TMG and all of the partners who helped to organize this event. I apologize for keeping you waiting. I’ve had such an extraordinary schedule of meetings today, and I just finished a very interesting and important dialogue with leaders of both the Muslim and Christian communities. And I had to listen to everyone, because everyone had something very important to say. Continue reading

Achievements in International Development Award ’09

Know somebody who’s made a real difference to the fight against global poverry? Why not nominate them for the DFID/Marie Stopes/Guardian ‘Achievements in International Development Award’. Closing date Friday 24th July –

The Guardian is delighted to be launching the Achievements in International Development Award. Running concurrently with the Guardian International Development Journalism Competition, the award aims to…
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About the NNNGO Millenium Campaign’s Video Series (II)

And here are the final four videos released by the UN Millenium Campaign in its eight day one short movie per day campaign.

Goal – 5: Maternal Health Continue reading

7 Point Agenda: CSOs advice President Umaru Musa Yar’adua.

With a terrific turnout of 100 individual votes from across the country, civil society organizations (CSOs) in Nigeria have now made their choice: “Infrastructure particularly Electricity and Transportation” has been polled as the top agenda the Federal Government of Nigeria should focus on in the implementation of its 7 point agenda.

Capturing 95% of the total polls, President Umaru Musa Yar’adua is now being advised to prioritize his seven point agenda with Infrastructure particularly Electricity and Transportation as the top priority. Human Capital – investments in health, education and training and Niger Delta regional development had very strong showings too with 57% and 34% respectively.

“As the Umaru Musa Yar’adua administration concludes its 2nd year and looks forward to the next two years, it is particularly important that it prioritizes its development agenda for Nigeria as encapsulated in the 7 point agenda” Continue reading