The rebirth of Hiware Bazar

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Monday, September 26, 2022

This story was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, a nonprofit journalism organization. As a young boy in the 1970s, Vishwanath Thange knew hunger. He usually lived on one meal a day, not enough when you’re working construction. But Thange had to take the work — or starve. He was born in Hiware Bazar, a village tucked deep inside the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Back then, the hamlet was a crime-ridden backwater, desperately poor and largely abandoned by government agencies. Thange’s family owned seven acres, but chronic drought prevented them from growing food to eat or sell. So Thange left, when he was 15, to look for work in nearby cities. About 20 years ago, he returned to Hiware Bazar, and today he is one of the 89 farmers there who have assets worth more than a million Indian rupees — a fortune in a country where 90 percent of the population makes less than 300,000 rupees a year. In the past 25 years, every farmer in Hiware Bazar has prospered, says Thange. “Today,” he says, “not a single person goes to bed hungry.” Thange recently earned around 2 million rupees from his farm, the equivalent of a bit more than $25,000. The average agricultural household in India, meanwhile, earns the equivalent of $800 as farm income annually. Thange’s income has paid for a good education for his two sons — a significant feat in rural India, where virtually no one can afford education. It also meant a sturdy, comfortable home for his family, and an increase in his land holdings, from seven acres to 25 acres. The average size of a farm in India is just 2.6 acres. Although Thange’s story is not an exception in Hiware Bazar, it is exceptional for India. Sixty-five percent of the country’s population resides in villages, where farming is the principal occupation. Farming, however, has been unprofitable in recent decades due to drought, a lack of direct integration with markets, high input costs, and low market prices.  Chirodeep Chaudhuri Vishwanath Thange holds a flower while standing in an irrigated field in Hiware Bazar. Chirodeep Chaudhuri Chirodeep Chaudhuri A motorcycle and car drive by the sign for Hiware Bazar, left. Right, painted rocks sit in a village field. Chirodeep Chaudhuri Chirodeep Chaudhuri The failure of the agriculture sector is blamed for the epidemic of farmer suicides in the country, which claimed the lives of more than 300,000 people between 1995 and 2014. According to the latest government figures, more than one agricultural worker dies by suicide every hour in the country. Maharashtra, the state where Hiware Bazar is located, reports the highest number of such suicides in the country. Last year, Maharashtra recorded more than 4000 farmer suicides, or over 11 each day. Climate change has exacerbated India’s agrarian crisis. Last year, the country lost more than 12 million acres of cropland to extreme weather. As droughts worsen, the resurrection of Hiware Bazar holds lessons for villages across the country.  Popularly known as the “village of millionaires,” Hiware Bazar’s model is now being replicated in thousands of villages across India. Through effective watershed management, the rebuilding of natural resources, and a shift to more sustainable, less water-intensive crops — all of which hinged on the participation of residents — the village turned itself into a national “model of development.” The agricultural success has driven progress across the rest of the community, including in healthcare and education.  But Hiware Bazar’s salvation took years of hard work. No one knows this better than Popatrao Pawar, the sarpanch, or head of the village, who spearheaded the village’s transformation. “When we started, it seemed impossible,” he says. “For us, it’s paradise regained.” Popatrao Pawar stands near a gate being constructed in Hiware Bazar. “The gate will survive even beyond us … as a commemoration of the work that we have all managed to do here,” he said. Chirodeep Chaudhuri Hiware Bazar lies in the drought-prone Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, and according to the most recent government data, receives less than half of the national average of rainfall each year. Agriculture there was largely rain-fed, but villagers had traditionally produced enough to feed themselves. Every home had cattle or goats, and dairy production was the primary source of income. But in the decade starting in 1972, the village faced three severe droughts, rendering the land barren, or banjar in local parlance. Wells went dry, fodder to feed livestock disappeared, and villagers turned to the forests on surrounding hills, stripping away the trees for firewood to produce liquor, both for sale and to ease the pain as their livelihoods collapsed. By the 1980s, Hiware Bazar had lost most of its natural assets. Only a fraction of the land could be cultivated, the soil was exhausted, and there was no electricity. At first, people left the village, thinking it would be temporary. Eventually, they just stayed away. Those who remained worked on farms or at construction sites in nearby villages for low wages. The sun beats down on a dry patch of land in Hiware Bazar. Chirodeep Chaudhuri “When contractors came looking for workers in Hiware Bazar, villagers would fight for the jobs, beat each other up,” says Arjun Pawar, who was the head of the village between 1972 and 1977.  According to Arjun, alcohol production and sale became the primary source of income. Locals mixed black jaggery, a coarse sugar made from sugarcane juice, with ammonium chloride powder and rotten fruit, like orange and sweet lime, to produce a potent brand of desi daru, Hindi for “country liquor.” An increase in crime followed. Villagers would also assault government officers, such as the forestry officials who prohibited cattle grazing on what remained of the forested hills surrounding Hiware Bazar. “People would tie up the forest officials to trees, and soon our village became a ‘punishment posting,’ where government policemen, teachers, and health officials were posted only if they had to be punished,” says Arjun. Men got drunk in the local school’s empty classrooms, recollects Deepak Thange, who was a student in the 1980s. At the time, every child in his village, including him, dreamed of growing up and building a future far from the village. “There was no hope for Hiware Bazar,” he says. “There was no hope for any of us.” When Habib Sayyed, a 48-year-old farmer, was a child, he would spend most Saturdays during the monsoons gathering cow dung. He and other children in the village would use the dung to patch the school’s mud floor. Before lessons resumed on Monday, the dung would dry, holding the floor together until the following weekend, when it would have again turned to muck from rain seeping in from the ceiling.  The school was a small, dilapidated structure with a tin ceiling and two rooms that ran only through fourth grade. Today, a new school, Yashwant Vidyalaya, sits at the village entrance, a prominent symbol of Hiware Bazar’s progress. It was revamped in the early ‘90s after Popatrao Pawar, the village head, convinced 18 families to donate parts of their land for its construction. The new school was the first glimmer of hope in the village, says Subhash Thange, who as a young man donated his labor to help rebuild the village. “It promised a better future for the children and built faith in the new administration.” Habib Sayyed sits on the steps of Yashwant Vidyalaya, a new school he says symbolizes the progress Hiware Bazar has made in recent years. Chirodeep Chaudhuri And the school has delivered. The literacy rate in Hiware Bazar is 95 percent, compared to 30 percent in 1990. “Our school runs classes up to the 10th grade, and also hosts students from neighboring villages,” Sayyed says. “During the pandemic, even as schools were shut across the country, ours continued after putting a COVID-19 prevention system in place.” Pawar was initially skeptical about running for village sarpanch. As a boy, he had moved away after fourth grade to complete his schooling; in 1987, he earned a postgraduate degree in commerce. He was not only the most educated person in Hiware Bazar, but he also had a promising career as a professional cricket player if he chose to pursue it. His achievements had earned him the respect and admiration of other villagers.  “He had played cricket with some of the top players in the country at the time, and yet he was humble, always kind and soft-spoken,” says Sakharam Padir, a teacher and one of the first to volunteer with Hiware Bazar’s new village council. Pawar’s success story, he says, gave people hope. In 1989, some residents asked Pawar to run for office. His family, however, advised him to abandon the village and use his education to secure a white-collar job. As he considered what to do, Pawar’s mother left the village in protest, living at her father’s place for eight days. “She was adamant that I should worry about my own future, as the village did not have one,” says Pawar.  But residents kept pleading with him to help, and Pawar says their persistence, as well as a genuine concern for the place where he grew up, eventually persuaded him to stay. In late 1989, he was unanimously elected to a five-year term as sarpanch.  One of the first things Pawar did was invite villagers to share their concerns. The conversations left him wondering how he would raise the money necessary to begin solving the many problems. The village had all but collapsed; it lacked basic amenities like water, roads, sturdy homes, medical facilities, and toilets.  “It took us four days to prepare this list and it left me overwhelmed,” says Pawar. “All I knew then was that if we were going to emerge from this situation, the entire village would have to work together.” Together with the new village council, Pawar embraced the idea of shramdaan, or “labor donation,” as a way to get villagers invested in building a better future. He went door to door, trying to convince people to contribute. If most of the villagers were inspired by Pawar and eager to work with him, there were some who resisted. After the village council built fences around its tamarind orchards, for instance, some residents unleashed their goats inside the fences to chew up the leaves and tender branches.  A motorcyclist drives by a community mural in Hiware Bazar. The broad asphalt roads of the village are a rarity in rural Indian villages. Chirodeep Chaudhuri The council prepared a five-year development plan with education as the priority. Using donated land and labor, the village rebuilt the school. The council then started asking state agencies — like forestry, agriculture and animal husbandry — for help, using the school as evidence that Hiware Bazar was serious about changing its fortunes. The officials, still wary of the clashes they’d had with villagers over the years, were not easily convinced. “I pleaded with them,” says Pawar.  His persistence eventually paid off. In 1992, the forest department added Hiware Bazar to the Joint Forest Management program. Begun in India in 1988, the national program helped forest communities develop and manage degraded forestland in ways that helped them meet their subsistence needs. Residents replanted 170 acres in the hills around the village, sowing tamarind, mango, arjun, and Indian gooseberry trees, all of which have economic and environmental as well as social and cultural value. The bark and fruit of the arjun tree, for instance, are widely used in ayurveda, the alternative medicine practice with deep roots in India. They started rituals, like gifting plants to newlyweds and organizing tree-planting campaigns for kids. They built water holes for the wildlife and replaced firewood with biogas generated from cattle dung. Next, the villagers restored the depleted watershed. In 1994, Hiware Bazar joined the state government’s Ideal Village program. The idea was to build resiliency and sustainability by providing safe drinking water, creating jobs, and strengthening education and health care.  Watershed development was central to the program. Years of cattle grazing and clear-cutting in the hills had eroded the soil and depleted the groundwater. Now, with reforestation and a ban on cattle grazing, the soil began to improve. The tree cover slowed the rainwater runoff, holding the soil in place and allowing the water to percolate into the soil.  Villagers built small dams along the natural drainage lines on the hills to trap rainwater, increasing the groundwater and holding the excess as surface water. The same technique was used to trap rainwater within the farmers’ fields. “With the watershed infrastructure, the water table rose almost immediately and the area under irrigation increased,” says Pawar. Farmers in Hiware Bazar had traditionally grown sorghum and pearl millet, and would often plant water-intensive crops like sugarcane and banana. They extracted groundwater for irrigation through deep wells, depleting the aquifers. Now, the village council started planning crops according to water availability, while also promoting dryland crops, like pulses, and less water-intensive crops, like vegetables. They abandoned wasteful flood irrigation in favor of micro-irrigation, which efficiently delivers water to crops through drip pipes and sprinklers. Drip pipes carry water across a large field in Bhalwani village, near Hiware Bazar Chirodeep Chaudhuri Before long, farming was working again in Hiware Bazar. By the mid-aughts, the number of trees had increased from 30,000 to 900,000. The amount of irrigated land went from 154 acres in 1994 to 642 acres in 2006. The village council helped farmers get bank loans for tractors, and secured some genetically modified seeds to boost yield, use less water, and resist pests. Farming evolved from subsistence to commercial, with villagers growing and selling wheat, oilseeds, pulses, vegetables, fruits, flowers, and fodder. Incomes rose sharply, and in 1998 the government declared Hiware Bazar to be an “ideal village.” In the quarter century since this work began, Hiware Bazar has built on its water harvesting and watershed management initiatives. It has introduced “water budgeting,” which considers the total available water in the village from rainfall and conservation efforts, and then makes allocations for drinking, domestic use, and irrigation, while banking 30 percent each year for future use. Crops are planned according to the water budget, and villagers have continued to donate their labor to maintain the infrastructure. A direct benefit of the village’s agricultural revolution is dairy farming, which is once again integral to Hiware Bazar’s economy. The increased income enabled many farmers to buy more cattle. In 2003, villagers constructed a veterinary clinic to ensure animal health and provide services like artificial insemination. The efforts, in turn, have increased the village’s milk production from 39 gallons a day in 1990 to more than 1,300 gallons today.  A man drives cattle down a road in Hiware Bazar Chirodeep Chaudhuri With farming revitalized, the wealth spread throughout the community. Every home is made of concrete, as opposed to just two in 1990. The village has 87 tractors, compared to none in 1990; 368 motorcycles, compared to 10 in 1990; and 28 cars, compared to none in 1990. To ensure that the village’s development benefited its poorest citizens, most of whom did not own farmland, the village council leveraged government programs to allot land to these families, and served as guarantors for their agricultural loans. “I think what worked was that whatever plans and schemes were implemented in Hiware Bazar, villagers did not think of them as government schemes or village council schemes,” says Sakharam Padir. “They thought them to be programs for their own development, for their own family’s welfare.” Over the past two decades, Hiware Bazar has helped thousands of villages in India replicate its development model. According to a 2019 report by the national government’s policy think tank, India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history, with 600 million people facing significant water stress and some 200,000 dying every year due to inadequate access to safe water. Agriculture accounts for 90 percent of water usage in India, and most of the irrigated land depends on groundwater sources, which are rapidly being depleted. Hiware Bazar’s development model, with watershed management and water conservation at its core, holds substantial relevance for Indian agriculture. Within three years of the implementation of Hiware Bazar’s model in Bhalwani, another drought-prone village in Maharashtra, the average income of the village’s farmers rose from 100,000 rupees in 2018 to 500,000 in 2021. In 2018, the village lost two farmers to suicide, but none in the years since. A farmer in Bhalwani, an adjoining village to Hiware Bazar, covers harvested onions in long lengths of cloth to protect them from the elements. Chirodeep Chaudhuri Ajay Dandekar, a professor with the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Shiv Nadar University, calls Popatrao Pawar’s contribution to Indian agriculture “immense.” But he says India’s agrarian crisis is complex, and solving it will require fundamental changes in how agricultural commodities are priced as well as in cropping patterns, which are not in line with the rainfall patterns in the country.   “Many things can be learnt from Hiware Bazar,” says Dandekar, who in a 2017 study investigated the reasons behind farmer suicides in two of India’s hardest-hit districts. “But more importantly, along with it, the government must create macroeconomic structures within the agrarian economy that will regulate the prices and benefit farmers.” In 2020, Pawar was awarded the Padma Shri, one of the highest civilian honors in India, for his work in Hiware Bazar. Today, he is the executive director of the Maharashtra government’s Model Village Program, working to transform a thousand of the state’s most depressed villages into self-sufficient communities. Meanwhile, activists, bureaucrats, and policymakers from across the country — as well as from countries like Germany, South Africa, Bangladesh, and others — have visited Hiware Bazar to study its success. “In Hiware Bazar, we’ve seen every type of scarcity,” says Pawar. “We know the pain that walks in with scarcity, but we have also tasted the fruits of unity and cooperation. And now, we’re sharing our lessons with the world.” This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The rebirth of Hiware Bazar on Sep 26, 2022.

How a drought-stricken community in India became a “village of millionaires”

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SA Teen Honoured at Young Activists Summit at UN in Geneva

A South African teenager – Zulaikha Patel (19) – who protested against her school’s hair policy is one of just six youngsters from around the world who has been honoured at the 2022 Young Activists Summit (#YAS22) at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The awards took place today during a live event with participants from […] The post SA Teen Honoured at Young Activists Summit at UN in Geneva appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

A South African teenager – Zulaikha Patel (19) – who protested against her school’s hair policy is one of just six youngsters from around the world who has been honoured at the 2022 Young Activists Summit (#YAS22) at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The awards took place today during a live event with participants from 134 countries, to honour six young laureates from all around the world who are working tirelessly to advance inclusivity and solidarity. Zulaikha – along with the other five – received a donation to carry out a field project and advance her cause on the ground. This was the fourth edition of the Young Activists Summit – ‘Together we thrive’ – which has reached over 3 million people on social media. Zulaikha is an anti-racism activist who led a protest against her school’s racist hair policy in Pretoria, which made nationwide and worldwide news. She said: “What triggered me to start to organize this protest was that (…) we were being forced to assimilate to what we were not, we were being told we couldn’t wear our hair as it grows naturally, we could not speak in our own groups with our friends in our African languages. That became a war on who we are, we were forced to erase our blackness, and it triggered me to do something. I knew I had to defend my identity, (…) I had to take a stand, not just for me but for my identity and the identity of my ancestors.” The others honoured at the 2022 Young Activists Summit are: Pashtana Durrani, 24, Afghanistan – Founder of LEARN Afghanistan, a network of underground schools for girls. Keely Cat-Wells, 26, UK/USA – Founder of C-Talent, a talent agency which promotes disabled talent and changes mindsets through entertainment. Sameer Jha, 21, USA – Founder of the Empathy Alliance which advances safe classrooms for LGBTQ+ students. C’est Prévue Emmy Lusila, 22, DRC – Founder of an orphanage for street children. Sebastián Benfeld, 21, Chile – Co-founder of Escazu Ahora, a movement advancing a pollution-free environment and protecting environmental defenders. The Summit is co-organized by the United Nations Office at Geneva, the NGO, Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS) and its Genève Vision label, and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. The post SA Teen Honoured at Young Activists Summit at UN in Geneva appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

An infusion of cash from Congress could keep the lights on in Puerto Rico

Here's what $3 billion could do to avert the next tropical storm blackout.

Puerto Rico could get $3 billion dollars for rooftop solar energy and battery storage if Congress approves a Biden administration request made earlier this week. The help is sorely needed.  The archipelago has been repeatedly hit by blackouts after a series of devastating hurricanes that crippled the electricity grid. In 2017, Hurricane Irma, which narrowly missed the main island but caused widespread blackouts, was followed by another — Maria — which killed over 4,000 people. Maria’s damage to Puerto Rico’s grid was so great that it took 11 months for power to be fully restored to the main island.       Both Puerto Rican activists and United States officials believe that investing in solar energy systems will help residents keep power on in their homes during what are certain to be more frequent and destructive storms in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico’s energy grid has been criticized for years for its unreliability under normal circumstances, even without the storm damage to power lines and generators. While a growing number of Puerto Rican households are taking the initiative to install solar panels on their rooftops, the majority of households continue to rely on electricity through the mainstream power grid, or run diesel-powered generators. Generators, however, are expensive and pollute the air.  But high costs and environmental considerations are only part of the picture. Electricity blackouts on Puerto Rico in the wake of tropical storms have exacerbated the already devastating public health and safety crises that followed. Researchers have estimated that in the three months after Hurricane Maria there was a 62 percent increase in mortality,  Many deaths following the hurricane occurred in isolated and mountainous regions where residents were unable to access outside water or medical facilities. But the lack of electricity at home may have been the biggest factor in the high mortality, as residents were unable to boil water, refrigerate food and certain medicines, or run air-conditioning in their houses. While a growing number of Puerto Ricans are installing solar panels on their rooftops, it remains too expensive for many. Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo via AP Images After Hurricane Fiona hit in September, residents who had installed solar panels on their homes were able to maintain their power even as the energy grid failed yet again. In spite of this, most households in Puerto Rico simply cannot afford to switch to solar without financial assistance offered by the federal government. The majority of census tracts in Puerto Rico are defined as disadvantaged, frequently due to high local energy costs coupled with low household incomes. Puerto Ricans as a whole pay some of the highest energy bills in the United States. In San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, the average cost to install solar panels for a household is nearly $12,000. While that’s less than what the average household on the U.S. mainland would have to pay for home solar, the cost is too much for most Puerto Ricans; the territory’s median household income is around  $21,000.  Before Hurricane Maria in 2017, household adoption of solar energy on Puerto Rico appeared to be more motivated by reducing electricity bills. Now, simply being able to turn the lights on has become just as strong a motivation. The archipelago is also considered a favorable location for widespread solar power adoption. A preliminary study in 2021 from the National Lab of Renewable Energy concluded that transitioning to rooftop solar energy could produce up to four times the current energy needs of Puerto Rico. This potential is largely due to its high amount of exposure to sunlight throughout the year.  While some Puerto Ricans may acknowledge the value of allocating financial resources to rooftop solar energy, others are not convinced that relying on federal funds will lead to any fundamental changes on the ground.  “Since Maria, the U.S. government has made many allocations of funds that never arrive or their impacts are not seen in Puerto Rico,” said Arturo Massol Deyá, the executive director of Casa Pueblo, a Puerto Rican organization that supports community self-management projects. Instead, Massol Deyá said, Casa Pueblo and other organizations are working to develop an independent electricity grid centered on solar energy projects that are run for and by local communities in Puerto Rico.   “We’re working to break the dependency model,” he said.  This story was originally published by Grist with the headline An infusion of cash from Congress could keep the lights on in Puerto Rico on Dec 2, 2022.

CIA Venture Capital Arm Partners With Ex-Googler’s Startup to “Safeguard the Internet”

Trust Lab, founded by a former Google exec for content moderation, will identify “online harmful content, including toxicity and misinformation.” The post CIA Venture Capital Arm Partners With Ex-Googler’s Startup to “Safeguard the Internet” appeared first on The Intercept.

Trust Lab was founded by a team of well-credentialed Big Tech alumni who came together in 2021 with a mission: Make online content moderation more transparent, accountable, and trustworthy. A year later, the company announced a “strategic partnership” with the CIA’s venture capital firm. Trust Lab’s basic pitch is simple: Globe-spanning internet platforms like Facebook and YouTube so thoroughly and consistently botch their content moderation efforts that decisions about what speech to delete ought to be turned over to completely independent outside firms — firms like Trust Lab. In a June 2021 blog post, Trust Lab co-founder Tom Siegel described content moderation as “the Big Problem that Big Tech cannot solve.” The contention that Trust Lab can solve the unsolvable appears to have caught the attention of In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm tasked with securing technology for the CIA’s thorniest challenges, not those of the global internet. “I’m suspicious of startups pitching the status quo as innovation.” The quiet October 29 announcement of the partnership is light on details, stating that Trust Lab and In-Q-Tel — which invests in and collaborates with firms it believes will advance the mission of the CIA — will work on “a long-term project that will help identify harmful content and actors in order to safeguard the internet.” Key terms like “harmful” and “safeguard” are unexplained, but the press release goes on to say that the company will work toward “pinpointing many types of online harmful content, including toxicity and misinformation.” Though Trust Lab’s stated mission is sympathetic and grounded in reality — online content moderation is genuinely broken — it’s difficult to imagine how aligning the startup with the CIA is compatible with Siegel’s goal of bringing greater transparency and integrity to internet governance. What would it mean, for instance, to incubate counter-misinformation technology for an agency with a vast history of perpetuating misinformation? Placing the company within the CIA’s tech pipeline also raises questions about Trust Lab’s view of who or what might be a “harmful” online, a nebulous concept that will no doubt mean something very different to the U.S. intelligence community than it means elsewhere in the internet-using world. No matter how provocative an In-Q-Tel deal may be, much of what Trust Lab is peddling sounds similar to what the likes of Facebook and YouTube already attempt in-house: deploying a mix of human and unspecified “machine learning” capabilities to detect and counter whatever is determined to be “harmful” content. “I’m suspicious of startups pitching the status quo as innovation,” Ángel Díaz, a law professor at the University of Southern California and scholar of content moderation, wrote in a message to The Intercept. “There is little separating Trust Lab’s vision of content moderation from the tech giants’. They both want to expand use of automation, better transparency reports, and expanded partnerships with the government.” How precisely Trust Lab will address the CIA’s needs is unclear. Neither In-Q-Tel nor the company responded to multiple requests for comment. They have not explained what sort of “harmful actors” Trust Lab might help the intelligence community “prevent” from spreading online content, as the October press release said. Though details about what exactly Trust Lab sells or how its software product works are scant, the company appears to be in the business of social media analytics, algorithmically monitoring social media platforms on behalf of clients and alerting them to the proliferation of hot-button buzzwords. In a Bloomberg profile of Trust Lab, Siegel, who previously ran content moderation policy at Google, suggested that a federal internet safety agency would be preferable to Big Tech’s current approach to moderation, which consists mostly of opaque algorithms and thousands of outsourced contractors poring over posts and timelines. In his blog post, Siegel urges greater democratic oversight of online content: “Governments in the free world have side-stepped their responsibility to keep their citizens safe online.” Even if Siegel’s vision of something like an Environmental Protection Agency for the web remains a pipe dream, Trust Lab’s murky partnership with In-Q-Tel suggests a step toward greater governmental oversight of online speech, albeit very much not in the democratic vein outlined in his blog post. “Our technology platform will allow IQT’s partners to see, on a single dashboard, malicious content that might go viral and gain prominence around the world,” Siegel is quoted as stating in the October press release, which omitted any information about the financial terms of the partnership. Unlike typical venture capital firms, In-Q-Tel’s “partners” are the CIA and the broader U.S. intelligence community — entities not historically known for exemplifying Trust Lab’s corporate tenets of transparency, democratization, and truthfulness. Although In-Q-Tel is structured as an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit, its sole, explicit mission is to advance the interests and increase the capabilities of the CIA and fellow spy agencies. Former CIA Director George Tenet, who spearheaded the creation of In-Q-Tel in 1999, described the CIA’s direct relationship with In-Q-Tel in plain terms: “CIA identifies pressing problems, and In-Q-Tel provides the technology to address them.” An official history of In-Q-Tel published on the CIA website says, “In-Q-Tel’s mission is to foster the development of new and emerging information technologies and pursue research and development (R&D) that produce solutions to some of the most difficult IT problems facing the CIA.” Siegel has previously written that internet speech policy must be a “global priority,” but an In-Q-Tel partnership suggests some fealty to Western priorities, said Díaz — a fealty that could fail to take account of how these moderation policies affect billions of people in the non-Western world. “Partnerships with Western governments perpetuate a racialized vision of which communities pose a threat and which are simply exercising their freedom of speech,” said Díaz. “Trust Lab’s mission statement, which purports to differentiate between ‘free world governments’ and ‘oppressive’ ones, is a worrying preview of what we can expect. What happens when a ‘free’ government treats discussion of anti-Black racism as foreign misinformation, or when social justice activists are labeled as ‘racially motived violent extremists’?” The post CIA Venture Capital Arm Partners With Ex-Googler’s Startup to “Safeguard the Internet” appeared first on The Intercept.

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