Technology such as social media can improve the exchange of information among citizens and with government entities. The Department of State, headed by Hilary Clinton, has committed to finding ways to integrate technology-driven communication capabilities with typical diplomatic functions of the Department to get the American people and citizens from other countries involved and help bridge the communication gap between civil society and government.
Alec Ross cites three examples of the application of technology during this administration to empower and engage citizens.
Haiti: As the first news reports of the devastation in Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake arrived, staff of the Department wanted to help U. S. citizens help. Remembering a recent technology briefing by James Eberhart of Echo Mobile on using cell phone text messages to raise money, Ms. Clinton approved a fast turn around effort to set up a text message-based system for donations. Three million Americans quickly raised $30 million dollars.
Mexico: Citizens of Mexico often decline to contact authorities when drug-related incidents were observed or suspected because of fears of retribution. In this example, the Department facilitated brain-storming and development of a cell phone based application that allowed individuals to report to police anonymously. Mapping technology added information to reports and feedback on police actions and observations were made transparent.
Ross's third example is Iran's Green Revolution that used technology to facilitate protests of government actions following recent elections. In this example however, Ross discussed the power of paranoid governments to interfere with communication by tracking people, shutting down sites, and even the Internet.
Internet freedom is at stake and 2009 was the worst year in history for Internet freedom. Citing Turkey, Iran, Thailand, and Vietnam as examples of governments' efforts to stop open communication, Ross encourages citizens to make sure people around the world can create and disseminate information with the same freedom as people in the United States and encourages developers to build tools to be used in public interest.
Alex Ross serves as Senior Advisor for Innovation in the Office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In this role, Alec is tasked with maximizing the potential of technology in service of America’s diplomatic and development goals.
Prior to his service at the State Department, Alec worked on the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team and served as Convener for Obama for America’s Technology, Media & Telecommunications Policy Committee.
In 2000, Alec Ross and three colleagues co-founded One Economy, a global nonprofit that uses innovative approaches to deliver the power of technology and information about education, jobs, health care and other vital issues to low-income people. During his eight years at One Economy, it grew from a team of four people working in a basement to the world’s largest digital divide organization, with programs on four continents.
Alec started his career as a sixth grade teacher in inner-city Baltimore through Teach for America. He is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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