Being a pro-democracy activist in certain countries is not for the faint-hearted, as demonstrations are violently stopped and activists regularly arrested.
During such arrests, police officers are often keen to gather information from protestors that can provide leads on their associates and their future activities. That is why confiscation of cellphones is one of the first things the police in such regimes will do.
As such, the U.S. government (via the Department of State) has directly and indirectly stepped up its technological support for pro-democracy activists in repressive regimes.
In this regard, the U.S. is now promoting a “panic” button app that prodemocracy activists can press in the face of imminent arrest.
Pressing the “panic button” will automatically delete the phone’s entire address book and simultaneously transmit a warning to other activists.
That way, the arrest of the activist will not place the democracy movement or the lives of any other persons they are involved with at risk.
The dangerous nature of the environments that pro-democracy activists operate in has seen the U.S. maintain a close lid on the individuals it is working with. The panic button comes hot on the heels of an aggressive drive by the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to expand Internet freedoms citing the powerful role that the internet played in fueling the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions.
Repressive regimes use internet censorship and monitoring to stifle dissent. Since 2008, the US has set aside $50 million for pro-democracy technologies that address censorship and monitoring.
On censorship, the U.S. is encouraging technologies that allow activists to bypass state sponsored firewalls. When it comes to monitoring, the American government funds strategies that make it difficult for state actors to pry into communication between activists.
Training is also an integral part of the US overall plan; having facilitated the instruction of about 5,000 activists worldwide on emerging pro-democracy technology.