Information Warfare: What Brought On Many Changes

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July 9, 2008: India now has 261 million cell phone users, and the number is climbing rapidly. China, with nearly 500 million cell phone users, has a slightly larger percentage of its population equipped with these very popular wireless devices. In poor countries, with low Internet use (there are only about 200 million Internet users in China), the cell phone is simultaneously the first phone and personal computer (a cell phone today is both) most people get their hands on. While many people use texting (it's cheaper) most of the time, their cell phones give them an unprecedented ability to send, and receive information, to or from anywhere in the world. This has brought on many changes.

Cell phones are radically changing the way warfare, and peacekeeping, is conducted. This was first noticed in Iraq, where cell phone use went from nearly zero in 2003, to nearly a third of the adult population today. A similar revolution is underway in Afghanistan. While cell phones gave the bad guys better communications, it also made them vulnerable to eavesdropping. It gets worse. In both countries, cell phones enabled people to express their dislike for terrorist violence by quickly and discretely reporting the location and activity of local terrorists. The bad guys have found no countermeasure for this. Trying to collect all the cell phones in the vicinity, or blowing up cell phone towers, merely make them more hated, and drives more people to risk their lives fighting the terrorists.

People really like their cell phones, and in the past few years, over half a billion people have gotten one for the first time. China's cell phone use has more than tripled in the last six years, as the cost of the phones, and connection time, has plummeted. But it's not just terrorists who have taken a hit from all this. It's much harder to run a police state now. With all those cell phones out there, the state can no longer control information flow by simply seizing a few radio and TV stations. The cell phone use leads to Internet use, and, as the Chinese government is learning, that means no one has the kind of control dictators were accustomed to for the last century. Some police states have tried to solve the problem by simply not allowing the public to have cell phones or Internet. That, however, has a side effect of crippling the economy (even more than the damage a police state inflicts). Even tyrants like their luxuries, and you need some kind of economic activity to get the goodies.

It's easy enough to say "death to the dictator", and many people have. But it's the cell phone, not bombs or bullets, that has been the most effective weapon ever deployed against the police state.

 


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