Few days ago, I had a conversation with a friend regarding the project HananTek. He is very well informed about the technology space which is why I could not hide my surprise when he asserted that the project was “finger in the nose” and that he failed to understand why it was such a challenging effort. It was all the more surprising considering that he grew up in a society where free speech has not always been paramount. His argumentation was essentially economic: according to him, it is unlikely that any government will have the political nerve to shut down the operations of telecom operators given the tax revenue that these businesses generate.
Sadly, the recent experience of a young Moroccan engineer is here to remind us that political regime do not need extremely fragile political situation to engage in actions which are gross human rights violation. Just imagine what else may take place if a country is under martial law. When a regime is fighting for its survival, the last thing it will care about are tax revenues.
The project HananTek needs to succeed not because stable democracies need it: they already have a well functioning press, certainly not perfect but functioning. No, rather it will serve a noble cause in fragile democracies and societies under autocratic rule: give a voice to the powerless, turn any citizen into an agent of change and create a more balanced and transparent exercise of power. In short, the project HananTek must be the response to the worst case scenario. That’s why it is hard work. How do you maintain it alive when the government tracks the communications of the population? How can it function if all the communication channels (voice, data) are filtered or even closed?
The approach adopted to tackle these issues starts with answering the needs of the best case situation then progressively “stressing” the system and assessing whether the current state of the technology will enable us to bring innovative answers to the challenges. It is certainly not “finger in the nose”.