Cablegate: US Government Implies Proprietary Software Leaves Digital Footprint

Posted in Cablegate, Free/Libre Software at 6:48 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz


Summary: Cable from Burma shows American diplomats who “would also like to assist in distributing USB sticks Internews has developed, which allow the activists to utilize open source software”

According to the following Cablegate cable, activists and antagonists (even subversives) are seen as beneficial to US embassies if they support the tenets of democracy (usually something subservient to the West), so the government supports foreign activists in Burma and says: “We would also like to assist in distributing USB sticks Internews has developed, which allow the activists to utilize open source software to launch programs, and enables them to use web browsers without leaving a digital footprint.”

They also say: “We will need considerably more assistance from Washington to facilitate communications by the activists with the outside world.”

Previously in Techrights we covered back doors and spy ‘features’ that exist in proprietary software such as Microsoft’s. Here we may have more incidental concordance courtesy of Cablegate:

DE RUEHGO #0181/01 0670922
O 070922Z MAR 08

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 000181 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/06/2018 
TAGS: PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs],QL, PHUM [Human Rights], BM [Burma] 
     B. RANGOON 145 
     C. RANGOON 134 
     D. CARL-YODER-COPE 10/15/2007 E-MAIL 
RANGOON 00000181  001.2 OF 002 
Classified By: P/E Chief Leslie Hayden for Reasons 1.4 (b) & (d) 
¶1.  (S/NF) Burma's pro-democracy opposition continues to 
struggle to organize a coordinated effort to respond to the 
upcoming constitutional referendum.  We expect the regime 
will continue its severe restrictions on free speech and 
association, making it impossible for the opposition to carry 
out a widespread, public campaign.  Activists inside Burma 
plan to carry out a "vote no" educational campaign via 
word-of-mouth, and using posters, stickers, and T-shirts. 
What would most help them succeed is funding for travel and 
equipment such as memory sticks, MP3 players, and cell 
phones.  We are confidant we could discreetly distribute 
these items.  $200,000 in additional funding to this Embassy 
would enable us to quickly assist the activists.  End summary. 
Reality Check 
¶1.  (C) Burma's fractured pro-democracy opposition continues 
to grapple with how to address the regime's upcoming 
constitutional referendum (Refs B and C).  The only group 
that has outlined a concrete plan to us (and this includes 
U.S.- funded exile groups on the Thai-Burma border) is 88 
Generation Students.  NLD spokesman Nyan Win told us today 
that the NLD still had not finalized a concrete plan for 
their "vote no" campaign.  He anticipated they would have it 
ready by next week.  Ethnic pro-democracy leaders inside 
Burma told us last week that they had no concrete plan to 
oppose the referendum either, even though most oppose the 
¶2.  (C) In the lead-up to the referendum, we do not 
anticipate the regime will loosen the tighter restrictions 
imposed since the September protests.  We expect a massive 
military and police presence as the date of the referendum 
approaches to prevent any protests or civil unrest. 
Activists are likely to be closely watched during this time. 
Likewise, anyone attempting to approach polling stations to 
conduct an exit poll not sanctioned by the regime is certain 
to be arrested. 
¶3.  (C) Regardless of these restrictions, 88 Generation 
activists who are not in prison, and remain in Burma, are 
determined to go forward with their "vote no" campaign.  The 
campaign will rely mostly on education via word-of-mouth. 
They plan on using sympathetic monks to educate their 
constituencies on why the constitution, in its present form, 
is not a step forward for democracy in Burma.  Additionally, 
they will dispatch members of their organization throughout 
Burma to distribute educational materials by hand. 
What They Need 
¶4.  (S/NF) 88 Generation has requested approximately $4,300 
for "vote no" posters, $2,600 for stickers, and $2,000 for 
its members to travel throughout Burma to coordinate with 
their members in other states and divisions.  We can use the 
Embassy print shop and copiers to assist them in making 
flyers and pamphlets for their campaigns. 
¶5.  (S/NF) In addition, the opposition needs memory sticks 
and MP3 players, which they intend to load with educational 
material and distribute throughout the country.  The players 
and memory sticks can be hidden and hand delivered from town 
to town by the activists during their travels. 
¶6.  (S/NF) Cell phones in Burma are prohibitively expensive, 
costing approximately $2,300 each.  Since many of their cell 
phones were confiscated after the September protests, 
RANGOON 00000181  002.2 OF 002 
activists urgently need cell phones to facilitate 
communication and coordination.  Their traditional suppliers 
from Thailand have not been able to get them the equipment. 
Since cameras are very dangerous to carry, the opposition 
would like to procure cell phones with cameras so they can 
discreetly take pictures of their campaigns and document 
abuses by the regime during the referendum process. 
¶7.  (S/NF) Since September, internet communication has been 
monitored much more closely by the regime, and Special Branch 
Police confiscated many of the activists' computers.  Post 
again recommends support for the wireless internet connection 
we proposed last October (Ref D), to assist the activists in 
communicating with pro-democracy groups inside and outside 
Burma to organize a coordinated response to the referendum. 
¶8.  (S/NF) We would also like to assist in distributing USB 
sticks Internews has developed, which allow the activists to 
utilize open source software to launch programs, and enables 
them to use web browsers without leaving a digital footprint. 
 These would be invaluable tools for aiding their 
communication with each other. 
¶9.  (S/NF) Comment:  The faster we can move this equipment 
and money to the activists the better.  The regime plans on 
holding its referendum in May, and their "vote yes" campaign 
is already in full force.  A large, sophisticated, public 
campaign will not happen in Burma: the regime shows every 
intent of halting any sign of public opposition.  The Embassy 
has gained experience in distributing small amounts of funds 
without attracting additional regime scrutiny of the Embassy 
or our recipients.  The activists need funds now to prepare 
for a vote that could take place as early as two months from 
now.  We estimate that $200,000 would enable us to assist the 
activists with their equipment needs.  We will need 
considerably more assistance from Washington to facilitate 
communications by the activists with the outside world.  End 

Without ascending (or descending) to politics, the important point here is that Free software helps people’s freedom.

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