The U.S. government has created what it is calling an "Internet in a suitcase" to cheat the switches on the filtering regimes of repressive countries. A kit of hardware, the suitcase creates a "shadow Internet" within a country that allows users to communicate with each other and the outside world despite electronic censorship.
The suitcase was funded by a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of State, according to the New York Times.
The Suitcase Nuke (Revisited)
"(T)he suitcase," the Times reported, "could be secreted across a border and quickly set up to allow wireless communication over a wide area with a link to the global Internet." It creates a mesh network of interconnected device, each acting as a sort of miniature cell tower.
This is only one aspect of a government-wide program to create alternative communications options that could be deployable in a number of different difficult situations.
Another important project is the creation of "stealth wireless networks." The most extensive (and expensive) so far is the $50 million alternative Afghani network. It is the hope of the government that it will act as a guarantee of communications consistency in the face of Taliban attacks on the country's infrastructure.
The U.S. has already worked a great deal on the issue of communications preservation and restoration. Between the rash of hacking attacks, with the latest being against the International Monetary Fund, and the reaction of governments like Syria to the Arab Spring, communications in general, and the Internet in particular, has become an increasing priority for the U.S.
Some of this, the suitcase in particular, reminds me of the machines dropped behind the Iron Curtain to encourage the development of samizdat literature. In fact, I think it's worth quoting a chunk of the review I wrote of Evgeny Morozov's book, The Net Delusion.
"Morozov makes the argument that the current belief in the redemptive effects of communications technologies comes from the U.S. experience of the cold war, in which copy machines and fax machines were smuggled into the U.S.S.R. That, combined with the enduring fiction that Reagan, and not the 'structural conditions and the inherent contradictions of the Soviet system' were responsible for that country's downfall, has led the diplomats and politicians of the U.S. to the belief that next generation technology and a strong leader will do the same thing for Islamist states and post-colonial dictatorships."
Is this the same thing? Maybe not. But it's worth considering. Will any of this work? Although this project is based on many hacktivist creations, even a lot of that stuff was more idea than actual. It may have been important to the morale of the protesters who toppled the Tunisian and Egyptian governments to know that some of these hacks made it possible to stay in touch with the world and to keep out of the shadows their regimes were hoping would cover their actions. But possibly the fact that these tools - from dial-up lines and call-up Twitter tools - were impelled by the creativity of individuals not governments may have made a difference too.
Either way, look for a great deal more effort on this front in the near future.