New York City clamps down on SMS and mobile phone activism

Mr. Hirsch said that the idea for TXTmob evolved from conversations about how police departments were adopting strategies to counter large-scale marches that converged at a single spot.

While preparing for the 2004 political conventions in New York and Boston, some demonstrators decided to plan decentralized protests in which small, mobile groups held rallies and roamed the streets.

“The idea was to create a very dynamic, fluid environment,” Mr. Hirsch said. “We wanted to transform areas around the entire city into theaters of dissent.”

Tad Hirsch, who created a system that allowed users to form networks and transmit SMS messages to hundreds or thousands of mobile telephones called TXTmob, received a subpoena to hand over all remaining records of communications using the system in August 2004 to organise protests against the Republican Convention.

Kind of thing you’ll expect to hear about in Sri Lanka or Zimbabwe.

In the Philippines, large scale demonstrations organized via cell phones and SMS were a major factor in forcing President Joseph Estrada to resign, thus bringing about change without large-scale violence. And this is the most known example amongst many others.

Question is whether these measures to interrogate new media / technologies with the aim of vitiating their subversive power can really, over the long term, make any real impact in a world where tech innovation is growing too fast for the parochialism of Governments to contain.

2 comments on “New York City clamps down on SMS and mobile phone activism

  1. Katrin
    April 1, 2008 at 12:28 am #

    Hi! For a full background on the story, see http://mobileactive.org/text-message-service-actvists-subpoenaed-new-york-city

    The protests took place in 2004, and txtmob, the grassroots service used for text messaging is now being subpoenaed to hand over user information as part of a law suit against New York city. It is not so much ‘clamping down’ as raising chilling (post-event) civil liberty and privacy questions that are of concern for mobile providers and activists alike.

    Katrin, MobielActive.org

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  1. When even democracies go awry with online dissent « ICT for Peacebuilding (ICT4Peace) - February 19, 2010

    […] New York City clamps down on SMS and mobile phone activism […]

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