A recurring event in the Arab Spring was the shutting down of the internet by incumbent regimes, acts which were met with such outrage by the global community that they in part led the U.N. to declare internet access a basic human right. The Obama administration is now leading an effort to create a “shadow” internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use in the event that their government shuts down web access, as Hosni Mubarak's regime did in Egypt, and President Bashar al-Assad recently did in Syria. The New York Times describes the State Department's efforts, which vary from developing James Bond-worthy high-tech gadgets to uncovering cell phones hidden by borders. Here are some of the ways the U.S. is looking to safeguard internet access across the world.
Internet in a Suitcase. A $2 million State Department grant is being used to develop a prototype "Internet in a suitcase," that the Times notes is like something "out of a spy novel." The suitcase project will rely on a version of “mesh network” technology, which can connect devices like cellphones or computers, creating a web without a centralized hub. Thus, each innocuous-looking suitcase acts as a mini-tower that can bypass the official network. “We’re going to build a separate infrastructure where the technology is nearly impossible to shut down, to control, to surveil,” said Sascha Meinrath, who is leading the “Internet in a suitcase” project.