As I skimmed through the headlines this morning, one piece of news made me very happy: Libyan rebels have hacked Moammar Gadhafi’s mobile network, thus restoring communication abilities throughout the country. The Libyan mobile network is run by Gadhafi’s oldest son on behalf of the state, which shut it down roughly a month ago. Since that time, rebel leaders have communicated with each other using color-coded flags.
I’m not a foreign affairs expert, but I wonder if the reclaimed ability for the rebels to make phone calls will turn out to be one of the most significant turning points in the Libyan fight for freedom. As we have seen, the role of technology and new media in popular uprisings and protests cannot be overstated. But now, rebels can contact journalists who have been operating under tight restrictions, doctors and medics can be reached to tend wounded rebels and civilians, and, perhaps most importantly, the rebel movement which has been criticized for a lack of focus can begin to centralize over a common line of communication. Ideally, rebels will now crystallize their leadership, demands and strategy, which could result in a swifter end to the current phase of conflict.
Particulars of the strength, speed and depth of the communication network now known as “Free Libyana” are unclear to me, although that’s as it should be. Details like that could possibly assist the government regime in breaking the network (I was a little miffed to read that a government spokesperson first learned of the network when a reporter asked him about it). As such, it’s not possible to nail down exactly how effective Free Libyana can be in aiding the rebel fighters and civilians caught in the crossfire. But this development reminds us, yet again, of the importance of mobile networks in a democracy, and no matter how small an advantage Free Libyana may provide, it is nonetheless an advantage. Literacy in media and technology is not, and never has been, a skill used solely in a classroom, no more than open and free media and technologies are luxuries or privileges. They are basic rights in an increasingly wired world.
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