The European Commission announced today that it was launching the No Disconnect Strategy. The project aims to ensure the rights and freedoms of those who live in countries where the flow of information is stifled by protecting the use of information and communication technology from government censorship.
There are four primary goals for the project, which is being headed by Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, former German Federal Minister of Defense, and of Economics and Technology. The first goal is to develop and provide technological tools to protect both the privacy and the security of those who live under authoritarian regimes. The second goal is to educate activists about both the opportunities and the risks associated with their use of information and communication technology, especially in terms of making best use of social networks and blogs while making them aware of the risks of surveillance. The third goal is to monitor the level of surveillance and censorship and to gain good intelligence about what is going on in a particular country. The fourth goal is to ensure cooperation and communication among interested parties in order to foster mulitilateral action to protect human rights.
The project stems from a growing awareness of the importance of the internet in general and of social media in particular for the flow of information and for freedom of expression. This awareness, as well as the tendency of oppressive regimes to stifle the flow of information and expression, led a growing concern in the EU that the freedoms fostered by free access to the internet be maintained.
The press release emphasizes that the project’s task of helping citizens bypass the censorship and surveillance methods employed by oppressive governments relies heavily on the availability of appropriate software tools – including desktop/laptop and smartphone software – to circumvent such methods. However there is no mention what, if any, pre-existing software tools it intends to incorporate into the project. Likewise, there is no mention of which countries the Commission specifically has in mind when it refers to authoritarian regimes. The press release does cite the recent Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere as an example of the kind of situation that has prompted the Commission’s concern.