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[liberationtech] Internet Freedom Software and Illicit Activity

Arzak Khan azrak_khan at
Thu Jul 2 01:45:15 PDT 2015

A report by RAND Corporation on Internet Freedom Software and Illicit Activity. Might of interest to readers on the list.
AbstractThe State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), as part of its broader effort to protect and advance political and economic freedoms and human rights, champions the United States' strategy for cyberspace to advocate for fundamental freedoms of speech and association through cyberspace; empower civil society actors, human rights activists, and journalists in their use of digital media; and encourage governments to limit neither the freedom of expression nor the free flow of information.To this end, DRL funds the development of many cyber security and privacy software programs. However, there are trade-offs associated with any such investment. On one hand, security and privacy tools can provide safe, reliable, and anonymous Internet access to people who would otherwise be censored, filtered, or punished for communicating electronically. On the other hand, these tools could also be used to conceal or commit illegal activity. This report examines the portfolio of tools funded by DRL that help support Internet freedom and assesses the impact of these tools in promoting U.S. interests.First, we note the benefits of these tools in promoting DRL's mission of Internet freedom across the world. Second, we examine their potential for, and examples of, their illicit use. Third, we consider the ability of comparable tools, not funded by the DRL, to be used for such purposes. And fourth, we examine safeguards and design and service models that could limit or restrict the use of the technologies for illicit purposes.The report concludes that DRL's support for Internet freedom tools has not made them more likely to be used for illicit purposes, relative to alternative technologies not funded by DRL.Key FindingsThere is little reported evidence that the Internet freedom tools funded by DRL assist illicit activities in a material way, vis-à-vis tools that predated or were developed without DRL funding.Conversely, DRL-funded tools can and do provide crucial capabilities to netizens (non-criminal users of the Internet) — specifically human rights activists — either because they are freely available, easy to use, marketed and available to human rights supporters, or because they operate in the user's native language. Further, given the wealth and diversity of other privacy, security, and social media tools and technologies, there exist numerous alternatives that would likely be more suitable for criminal activity, either because of reduced surveillance and law enforcement capabilities, fewer restrictions on their availability, or because they are custom built by criminals to suit their own needs.The development of Internet freedom tools and technologies is a worthwhile endeavor.Such tools provide a material capability to netizens and human rights activists that they may otherwise not have, while criminals and others who seek to use such technologies for illicit purposes have alternatives available that offer capabilities equal or even preferable to those offered by DRL-funded tools. 		 	   		  
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