Telecommunications For Nonviol Essay Research Paper Telecommunications

Telecommunications For Nonviol Essay, Research Paper Telecommunications for Nonviolent Struggle Telecommunications can play a vital role in nonviolent resistance to

Telecommunications For Nonviol Essay, Research Paper

Telecommunications for Nonviolent Struggle

Telecommunications can play a vital role in nonviolent resistance to

aggression or repression, as shown by numerous historical examples. Yet

there has been no systematic development of telecommunications research,

policy or training for this purpose.

We interviewed a number of experts in telecommunications to learn how these

technologies could be used in nonviolence struggle. We report our general

findings and list a series of recommendations for use and design of

telecommunications in nonviolent struggle. This pilot project reveals the

radical implications of orienting telecommunications for nonviolent rather

than violent struggle.


Communications are absolutely crucial to nonviolent struggle against

aggression and repression. The following cases illustrate some of the roles

of telecommunications.

* In April 1961, there was a military coup in Algeria, then a part of France,

by generals who opposed de Gaulle’s willingness to negotiate with Algerian

rebels. Popular opposition in France to the coup led de Gaulle to make a

media announcement calling for resistance. In Algeria, many pilots opposed

to the coup simply flew their aircraft out of the country. Many soldiers

hindered operations, for example by “misplacing” orders and communications;

others simply stayed in their barracks. The coup collapsed within four days

without a shot being fired against it (Roberts, 1975).

* In August 1968, Czechoslovakia was invaded by troops from the Soviet Union

and four other Warsaw Pact states. The reason was the liberalisation of

communist rule in Czechoslovakia, threatening ruling elites in Moscow. There

was no resistance to the invasion from Czechoslovak military forces, nor from

the West. But there was an amazing spontaneous nonviolent resistance

(Windsor and Roberts, 1969).

Many of the invading soldiers had been told that they were there to smash a

capitalist takeover. When told the truth by Czechoslovak people, many became

unreliable and were transferred out of the country within a few days. They

were replaced by troops from the Soviet far east who did not speak Russian.

This shows the crucial importance of knowing the language of the aggressor


The radio network was crucial to the resistance (Hutchinson, 1969). The

network permitted simultaneous broadcasting from the same frequency from

different locations. This meant that when Soviet troops tracked down and

closed one transmitter, another immediately took over. The radio announcers

announced strikes, recommended using nonviolent methods only, and provided

information about troop movements, impending arrests and licence numbers of

KGB cars. Jamming equipment being brought in by the Soviet military was

delayed by railway workers. The radio broadcasts made this the first

European invasion exposed to intense publicity.

In the circumstances, the resistance was remarkably effective in frustrating

the Soviet political aim of setting up a puppet government within a short

time. The active phase of the resistance lasted just a week, but it was not

until April 1969 that a puppet government was installed.

* Indonesian military forces invaded the former Portuguese colony of East

Timor in 1975. Their occupation led to the deaths of perhaps a third of the

population through killings and starvation. By cutting off communications to

the outside world, outrage over this repression was minimised. The

Australian government aided in this communications blockade by shutting down

a short-wave transmitter in the Northern Territory.

In November 1991, a massacre of nonviolent protesters in Dili, the capital of

East Timor, rekindled international concern over the Indonesian occupation.

This killing attracted attention because of the presence of foreign observers

and videotapes of the killings, illustrating the importance of communications

in generating opposition to repression.

* In Fiji in 1987 there were two military coups. Because Fiji has numerous

small islands, short-wave radios are a standard means of communication.

Therefore, it was impossible to cut off communication with the outside world.

Wide publicity about the coups led to international protest, bans by some

trade unions on goods shipments, and a dramatic decline in tourism, a major

export earner for Fiji (Martin, 1988).

* In 1989, Chinese troops massacred hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in

Beijing. In the aftermath, the Chinese government tried to cut off

telecommunications to other countries. But fax machines continued to

operate, providing information to outsiders and enabling informed overseas

protests. When the Chinese government publicised a telephone number for

reporting of “dissident elements,” this information was leaked overseas, and

people from around the world jammed the number by making continual calls,

preventing it from being used for its original purpose.

* The Soviet coup in August 1991 failed, in part, due to lack of control over

telecommunications. Yeltsin’s supporters got out their basic message -

refuse to cooperate with the coup leaders and defend the Russian parliament -

using radio, faxes, computer networks and leaflets.

These examples show the crucial importance of communications in nonviolent

resistance to aggression and repression. Killings of unarmed civilians can

generate enormous outrage, both in local populations and around the world.

By contrast, killings of guerrilla fighters gain relatively little attention

- violence against violence is seen as legitimate, even when the sides are

very unbalanced.

But killing or beating of civilians has to be publicised. If repression is

carried out in secret, there is little impact. Communications and publicity

are vital. Communication of accurate information is a key to the effective

work of Amnesty International.

Social defence

Social defence is nonviolent community resistance to aggression as an

alternative to military defence. Instead of having an army, a community

would oppose aggression using demonstrations, fasts, refusals to obey,

strikes, boycotts, sit-ins and other types of nonviolent action. This form

of defence also goes by the names nonviolent defence, civilian defence and

civilian-based defence.

At first glance, it seems implausible that social defence could possibly work

against a well-armed aggressor. As the above examples show, the use of only

nonviolent methods can be very effective in undermining the commitment of

soldiers. Most soldiers under military dictatorships and authoritarian

regimes are conscripts who don’t want to go to war. When they encounter an

“enemy” who doesn’t use violence, it becomes much more difficult for them to

use violence. The thing to remember is that armies can succeed only if

soldiers are willing to follow orders.

There is not enough space here to begin to discuss the arguments for and

against social defence. (Some good sources are Boserup and Mack, 1974;

Galtung, 1976; Roberts, 1967; Sharp, 1990). Suffice it to say that we

believe social defence is worthy of further investigation and testing. Our

project is part of that process.

The project

Schweik Action Wollongong is a small voluntary group of people who work on

projects relating to social defence. The group is named after Hasek’s

fictional character the good soldier Schweik, who created havoc in the

Austrian army during World War One by pretending to be extremely stupid

(Hasek, 1974). Various members of the group are also active in other social

movements as well as holding down regular jobs. We keep in regular contact

with like-minded individuals and groups throughout Australia and overseas.

Our project on telecommunications and social defence commenced in mid 1990

and followed on from a preliminary investigation into the Australian postal

system. We have focussed on this area because the connection between

communication and social defence is a vital one.

We interviewed a diverse range of people from the areas of satellite

communications, computer engineering, ham radio, computer systems development

and community radio. We started by interviewing people we knew and branched

out as we asked the people interviewed who else we should be contacting. The

interviews were usually conducted by two members of our group, one of whom

took notes. The notes were written up and circulated amongst members of the

group. Care was taken to ensure the anonymity of the interviewees.

From our point of view, the interviews had a very useful twofold purpose.

Not only were they a valuable and interesting source of information on

telecommunications capabilities, but they also allowed us to talk to other

people about social defence. In this way the interviews were a goal in

themselves, namely raising the issue of nonviolent struggle, as well as a

method for gaining information about telecommunications.

Main results

We describe some of our main findings according to the type of technology


The telephone system is a wonderful means for mobilising against repression.

It is readily available to nearly everyone, requires very little knowledge or

training to use, and can be used to contact virtually any part of the world.

Most importantly, it is a network means for communication. Anyone can

contact almost anyone and there is no central control or censorship over what

people say on the phone.

There are two important limitations to the telephone. First, it can readily

be tapped, and individuals usually don’t know when this is happening.

Tapping can do little to stop a large-scale opposition, because there must

ultimately be people who listen to tapped conversations. If there are enough

people in the resistance, the regime can monitor only a small fraction of

relevant calls. Tapping in this situation is effective through its

psychological intimidation of callers who think someone is listening to their


A simple way to get around tapping is to use public telephones, or simply a

friend’s telephone. For answering of phones, some of the systems which

forward a call to another number are useful: the location of the person

answering the phone is not readily known to the caller (or someone listening

in). Also worth considering, as preparation for emergency situations, are

machines that change the pitch and vocal quality of a voice, and encryption

technology (which puts the message into code).

The second important limitation of the telephone system is that it can be cut

off selectively or entirely. This can be used against the regime or the

resistance, depending on loyalties of technicians on the inside. Generally,

the resistance would be wise to keep the telephone system operating. For

that matter, any modern industrial society depends on telephones for everyday

functioning. So it is unlikely that the entire system would be cut off

except for short times, such as the aftermath of a coup or massacre.

Resisters should build links with technical workers to ensure that the chance

of this is minimised.

As telephone systems become more computerised, the possibilities for central

authorities to monitor calls or cut off certain numbers increases. These

developments are making telephones less valuable for nonviolent struggle.

Fax is an extension of the telephone system to printed documents. All the

same considerations apply, except that documents received are often available

to anyone who happens to be around. Faxes with security codes overcome this

problem. (This is similar to the lack of security in telephone answering

machines.) Fax machines are much less common than telephones and require a

bit of training, but are basically easy to use. Using faxes is much better

when lengthy or complex information needs to be sent out.

Computer networks are excellent for person-to-person communication, but can

also be used to send messages to several addresses at once, or put material

on a computer bulletin board for all to read. They have the same limitations

as the telephone system, namely the potential for being monitored or cut off

by a master user (the person who controls the system and knows all the


Unlike telephones, computers are not so easy to use and are available to only

a small fraction of the population, being relatively expensive. Computers

are becoming cheaper, more widely available and more user-friendly each year,

and will undoubtedly play an increasing role in communication in crisis


In the case of emergency, it would be advantageous to be able to run computer

networks on a different basis. For example, the master user’s power to shut

down or monitor accounts could be terminated. Such a change could be

programmed to occur, for example, whenever a specified number of users

inserted a special command within a certain time interval. Methods for doing

this, and their implications, remain to be studied.

Many computer networks could be disrupted by turning off a single key

machine. To reduce this vulnerability, there could be a duplicate site as a


Computers have the capacity to store vast quantities of information, and this

leads to new considerations. Some databases – for example, containing

information on social critics – would be sought by a regime. One possibility

would be to have plans to hide, encrypt or destroy sensitive information in

case of emergency.

Short-wave radio is another excellent network form of telecommunications. It

can be used to talk person-to-person across the globe. Furthermore, it

operates as a stand-alone system, so that the plug cannot be pulled from any

central location.

Calls on short-wave can be overheard by others with suitable equipment; as in

the case of telephone, the more people who use the medium, the less the risk

to any one. The location of short-wave transmitters can be pinpointed, but

the transmission site can readily be moved. An ideal way to ensure continued

international communications in a crisis would be to have a short-wave system

in every home, plus many additional public systems for anyone’s use.

A combination of short-wave transmission and computer data produces packet

radio, in which packets of data are transmitted. These transmissions cannot

be listened in on, though they could be deciphered with special equipment.

Packet transmissions can be sent up to amateur radio satellites and broadcast

down to receivers later, even halfway around the world. Combined with

encryption, this provides an extremely safe and secure method of sending

masses of information.

The main disadvantage of short-wave radio is the limited availability of the

technology and knowledge of how to use it.

CB radio is similar to short-wave radio, except for a much more restricted


Television and mainstream radio are much less useful against a repressive

regime. Indeed, they are prime targets for takeover. The main reason is

that a few people control the content and the transmissions; everyone else

consumes the message. In this situation, the loyalty of both technicians and

broadcasters is crucial. If stations are taken over, perhaps the best

counter move would be for technicians to cause faults hindering transmission.

But this cannot be the basis for a programme of resistance, since immense

pressures can be brought against recalcitrant workers, or new compliant ones

brought in.

With some advance planning, a takeover could be delayed and hindered for at

least days or weeks, if not resisted indefinitely. But often the threat is

not immediately recognised by all workers, so it can be difficult to obtain

agreement for such action.

Community radio stations, in which community groups control programme content

and participate in making station policy, are much better placed to continue

speaking out. Preparations for emergencies at such stations have the added

advantage of making many groups aware of the necessity for action in a


Illegal political radio broadcasts are also possible, and indeed clandestine

radio is a regular feature of resistance movements. Complications arise

because many clandestine broadcasters are run by government spy agencies,

which sometimes pose as resistance stations (Soley and Nichols, 1987).

In the longer term, it would be desirable to reduce dependence on the

broadcast technologies of television and mainstream radio and increase the

use of network technologies such as telephone.

It is important to remember that other forms of communications are important

besides telecommunications. This includes talking face-to-face, pamphlets,

graffiti, posters and the ordinary post. Telecommunications can aid

resistance to aggression and repression, but they are not essential.

It is also important to remember that technology is useless unless people are

willing to act. In this sense, politics, not technology, is the key to



Even with the present state of technology and people’s awareness,

telecommunications can be an important part of nonviolent resistance to

aggression and repression. But there are also many things which can improve

the effectiveness of telecommunications for this purpose. We list them here

under five categories.

1. Realising present capabilities. Right now, people are quite capable of

using existing telecommunications to oppose a repressive regime. People need

to be made aware of their own capabilities.

If the mass media of television and mainstream radio, plus large-circulation

newspapers, are taken over, there are still plenty of avenues for independent

communication. The telephone system is the most obvious. Only a small

fraction of phones can be effectively monitored, so most people can use them

without risk; they need to realise this. Those who are at risk should

realise the possibilities for using other phones.

Those who have access to computer networks should be made aware of the

potential for communication. This includes people working for banks,

universities and large companies. Similarly, short-wave operators should be

made aware of the crucial importance of their technology.

Technicians in vital areas – such as television broadcasting or computer

networks – need to be aware of how they can help maintain communications

among those resisting repression.

2. Learning to use existing technology. Most people know how to use

telephones. Many more can learn how to use fax machines and computer

networks. Run a practice session with friends.

An even greater commitment is needed to learn to use short-wave radio or

packet radio. It is important for these skills to be more widely shared in

the community.

3. Preparation. Knowing how to use telecommunications is one thing; being

prepared to use them in a crisis is another.

Having a procedure for telephoning people in an organisation or network is

important. The system should work even when some people are not available or

some telephone lines are interrupted.

Developing lists of fax numbers is another useful step. On a computer

network, lists of important contacts could be kept ready for an emergency,

and perhaps hidden in a coded group so that others cannot inspect the list.

Another important part of preparation is simulations. A group of people can

run a drill, testing out their communication systems in the face of a few

disrupters. In this way the strengths and weaknesses of different systems

can be tested. Also, people can become accustomed to acting promptly and

sensibly in a crisis situation.

4. Designing technology. Telecommunications systems should be designed to

provide maximum support to a popular, nonviolent resistance, and minimal help

to a repressive regime. This seems never to have been a consideration in

system design before, so it is difficult to be precise about what is


Is it possible to design a telephone system so that a speaker is warned if

another party is listening in on a call? Is it possible to design a

telephone system in which every phone can become – at least in emergencies -

as non-traceable as a public phone? Is it possible to design a telephone

system so that user-specified encryption is standard? Or in which encryption

is introduced across the system whenever a specified fraction of technicians

(or users) signal that this is warranted? Is “public key encryption,” or

some other system, the best way to support popular nonviolent struggles?

Is it possible to design a computer network so that the master user’s control

over accounts is overridden when a certain fraction of users demand this

within a specified period? Is it possible to design a computer system in

which encryption or hiding of data bases is automatic when there is

unauthorised entry?

There are many other such questions. Perhaps, too, these are not the

appropriate questions. The most effective design of a telecommunications

system to operate against a repressive regime will depend on practical tests

which cannot all be specified in advance. It is certainly the case that

there are a host of difficult and fascinating design problems.

It is important to remember that the design is not simply a technical issue,

since the most effective design depends on an assessment of people’s skills,

commitment and behaviour in a crisis situation. Good design will discourage

aggressors and encourage resistance. In this context, being seen to be

effective is part of what makes a system effective in practice.

5. Organising society. Telecommunications is only one part of nonviolent

resistance to aggression. Other areas are important too. A decentralised,

self-reliant energy system – rather than dependence on supplies generated at

a few central facilities – will make a community much more capable of

resisting threats from an aggressor. Similarly, greater self-reliance in

transport and agriculture would aid a community in defending itself. Workers

should be able to take control of their workplaces and resist demands of a

repressive regime.

All of this implies considerable changes in the organisation of society:

production and distribution of goods, services, transport, etc. In each

case, there are implications for communication. For example, if a regime

tried to repress dissent by interrupting deliveries of food, then it would be

vital to have reliable communication about available supplies, local gardens,

needy people, etc.

All of this would require preparation, organisation, commitment and training.


The development of telecommunications for nonviolent resistance to aggression

and repression depends on participation by many people to deal with local

situations. This is a preliminary report of our project. We welcome

comments, corrections and suggestions for future investigation, and hope to

hear about the ideas and experiences of others.

Schweik Action Wollongong

PO Box 492, Wollongong East

NSW 2520, Australia

Phone: +61-42-287860.

Fax: +61-42-213452.



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in National Defence (London: Frances Pinter).

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Peace Research, vol. 12, pp. 19-36.

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Defense: A Post-Military Weapons System (Princeton: Princeton University


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Broadcasting: A Study of Revolutionary and Counterrevolutionary Electronic

Communication (New York: Praeger).

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Repression and Resistance (London: Chatto and Windus).