Free Minds & Free Markets

#SXSW: How Activists Are Using Technology to Fight Dictators

Dissidents are using USB drives to smuggle information into authoritarian regimes.

From cowboy-hat-wearing robot arms to stress-detecting aromatherapy diffusers to futuristic audio speakers, everyone with a booth at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive is trying to disrupt the status quo with technology.

But if you were looking for something truly disruptive at SXSW, look no further than a group of activists using tech to spread information to citizens oppressed by authoritarian regimes.

"The people out there they don't have satellites, they don't have internet, they have nothing," says Abdalaziz Alhamza who escaped Syria and co-founded Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. "To be stuck with only ISIS propaganda, it will affect them."

Alhamza and dissidents from Eritrea, Afghanistan and Cuba were brought together by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) for a panel discussion called "The Real Information Revolution." Reason caught up with the group at the HRF booth on the convention floor, centered around a large wall of Kim Jong Un faces with USB ports for mouths. Attendees were invited to donate USB drives into the display. The drives will later be smuggled into North Korea after being wiped and filled with films and information from the outside world.

"The struggle for freedom is one that used to be about who has more guns. Now information is a key component in making sure the government doesn't get away with winning the day with its narrative and pushing what governments tend to do, which is the use of fear to control the population," says Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF.

If you're interested in the campaign you can log onto for more information about donating your drive.

Produced by Meredith Bragg, Paul Detrick, Austin Bragg and Alexis Garcia.

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Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I posted a longer rant about exactly that, but it looks like Reason invoked their Right for Diane Reynolds to be forgotten.

  • Hank Phillips||

    I'd settle for gone.

  • BTS11||

    The drives will later be smuggled into North Korea] good luck cause i would not wanna be that guy

  • John Titor||

    They use weather balloons I believe.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    You're right. Remember Pulp Fiction? Exactly.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    So have they retracted their own reporting from January saying it happened? Funny how they don't even mention that here. You would think it might be slightly relevant.

    it is not clear why Mr. Trump thought he was wiretapped or what led him to make the claim

    Oh, I don't know, maybe he's one of your readers, and saw your article about how he had been wiretapped?

  • kbolino||

    So far, the Justice Department has refused to say publicly whether it went to a judge to get a secret warrant to eavesdrop on Mr. Trump

    I'm sure they're just busy finding all the ways to say "no".

  • Rhywun||

    I would clear my UBS drives off before donating. Who knows what's on there.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Oh, we know. WE KNOW.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I don't clean mine. I want the NORKs to know what life in the West is REALLY like!

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Is it really cheaper to ship the drives from California to South Korea than it would be to just buy them in South Korea?

  • Hank Phillips||

    This is what Reason Reporter Jack Wheeler was doing with floppies in Afghanistan in 1984.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    ...while in China, that wealthy US trading partner that isn't subject to various UN trade sanctions, the regime zealously uses technology to keep its people people down.


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