The Obama administration is reportedly wielding connectivity as a weapon for change, leading efforts to set up shadow telecom networks in autocratic countries.
The New York Times details a number of secretive projects, including a plan to develop a suitcase-sized device that could be smuggled across borders and then deployed to clandestinely provide wide-ranging wireless broadband connectivity.
The kit would act as a mesh network, enabling each one to stand in for base stations and form a network without a centralized hub.
Another project on the cards is to modify Bluetooth to enable material that would otherwise fall victim to government censorship to be automatically distributed over the format through a trusted network of mobile phones.
The US is also reportedly involved in projects to set up secret mobile networks in countries including Iran, Syria and Libya.
According to NY Times, at least $50 million has already been spent to set up an independent mobile network in Afghanistan, to circumvent the Taliban’s ability to cut off communications by using threats and attacks to shut down cell towers. The project, which involves setting up base stations in places including protected army bases, is thought to be close to a limited launch. A mesh network had also previously been deployed in the nation. Despite the potential of these projects to destabilise repressive governments, the US officials who would go on record painted them solely as efforts to protect citizens’ fundamental human rights to free communication.