Friday, 7 October 2011

US SMS campaign targets Cuba

Attacking censorship: U.S. text-messaging campaign targets Cuba
Source: CubaMoneyProject, 01 October 2011.

A Maryland company has won a U.S. government contract to set up a system capable of sending tens of thousands of text messages every month to Cuban cell phone users who want to receive news and information from TV and Radio Martí. Washington Software, Inc., will design a text messaging system aimed at countering Cuban government attempts to block politically sensitive messages, according to a Sept. 23 award notice. The Broadcasting Board of Governors, or BBG, solicited bids for the text-messaging service on Aug. 17. The base contract is worth $84,000 during the first year. Four additional one-year options would boost the total value of the contract to $464,160. One prospective contractor wondered if the text-messaging campaign was legal. He wrote:
We are concerned with the legality of sending these types of notifications to people in another country. Does the US government take all legal responsibility for these messages? Are there legal considerations a vendor would have to be aware of on these kinds of broadcasts?

The BBG replied:
The Agency assumes responsibility for the content of the messages. The Contractor assumes all responsibility under this requirement and should consider all aspects of this requirement before submitting an offer.

Translation: If you’re worried about legal trouble, don’t bother to apply.

The International Broadcasting Bureau, which oversees Miami-based Radio and TV Martí, explained the need to get around Cuban censors.
The IBB’s Internet anti-censorship program seeks to ensure Internet users in target countries are able to access USG broadcasters’ web sites to access their news and other programming, using a variety of tools to counter foreign government-sponsored Internet censorship controls. These techniques must include the ability to add unique changes to each message instance sent to each individual subscriber to avoid detection of messages being sent in bulk to many subscribers. Additionally, these techniques may include keyword substitutions, where potentially provocative keywords which are likely to be censored are replaced with other words or characters which leave the meaning intact but foil automated keyword detection. lists Washington Software as the winning contractor. The firm’s first-year contract runs from Sept. 15, 2011, through Sept. 14, 2012. The government contract requires that the contractor be able to distribute up to 24,000 total messages per week – and that amount may rise, depending on events in Cuba. Washington Software has been in business since 1998. Its address is 20410 Century Blvd, Ste 220, Germantown, Maryland. Its clients include the U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Health & Human Services and the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Washington Software also serves such businesses as IBM and Lockheed Martin. The company website states:
We are an IT Solution Provider and we pride ourselves in our experience, knowledge, and skill set to provide our clients with positive results. We utilize a secure and agile methodology alongside proven technologies to maximize our efforts in our projects. Our main focus has been to satisfy our commercial and government organizations located in our region.

The full text of the bid is here