Noah Vehafric

An Open Internet is Critical for the Cuban People

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Posted by Noah Vehafric on Tuesday, July 27th, 2021, 11:41 AM PERMALINK

The communist regime of Cuba is using their control of the internet to stifle dissent and contain protests. The United States has the technology and resources to circumvent this censorship. The Biden Administration says it will sanction Cuba. A condition of lifting any sanctions must include an open internet for the Cuban People.

The internet in Cuba is provided by ETECSA, a state-owned enterprise. They have limited access during these recent protests. Encrypted messaging services like WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram were being blocked from citizens accessing it. At one point there was a total blackout of internet and telephone service.

This an insidious pattern of internet control is right out of Chinese playbook, where their far-reaching “Great Firewall” has restricted the information that the Chinese people can see for decades. In fact, it might be likely that China is directly supporting Cuba’s censorship effort.

Cuban internet is built on equipment sold by Huawei, ZTE, and TP-Link. This is equipment that has since been banned in the United States. It has also been observed that ETECSA’s login portal was written by Chinese developers as well as utilizing Chinese written web filtering software.

This command and control of the internet is antithetical to the American principles of collaboration and the free exchange of ideas that built the internet. Last week Florida governor Ron DeSantis, Senator Marco Rubio and FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr all called on President Biden to greenlight American efforts to ensure internet connectivity in Cuba.

Helping Cubans access the internet isn’s some abstract principle. There are simple solutions to be done here. Right now 1.4 million Cubans are using a U.S. created software called “Psiphon” that uses virtual private networks (VPNs) and HTTP proxy technology to circumvent government censorship measures.

The U.S. can also get the internet to Cuba using balloons (yes, balloons) to send mobile cell sites up into the atmosphere. These solar-powered sites can serve thousands of users and last up to 5 months at a time. Internet could also be provided to Cubans via satellite as Senator Marco Rubio points out in his open letter to President Biden.

This is an issue the administration cannot faulter on. Protestors and journalists have been arrested or attacked. “This isn’t about politics is about saving lives” musician Pitbull said. Allowing this censorship and preventing these acts from being shown to the world deprives the Cuban people the ability to present evidence of the abuse they face from their government.

American enterprises are quite capable of delivering internet to Cuba, the lukewarm response the Whitehouse has given so far needs to turn into an action. “This is a moment in history we cannot let pass. Increasingly, dictators around the world are shutting down internet connections when people are yearning for freedom” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr.

As we work in our own country to give everyone access to the internet, this is an opportunity to show how much we value connectivity and demonstrate to the world that the internet will not be a tool of control to be used by authoritarian governments around the world.


Photo Credit: Yerson Olivares

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Biden’s First Day: Let Federal Agencies Run Free

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Posted by Noah Vehafric on Wednesday, February 10th, 2021, 3:38 PM PERMALINK

On his first day as President, Joe Biden signed an Executive Order repealing a series of 6 Executive Orders that were signed by President Trump as part of an effort to put guardrails on federal regulations; making the process more reliable, accessible, and transparent.  

One of these Trump Executive Orders that Biden repealed, Executive Order 13891 “Promoting Rule of Law Through Improved Agency Guidance Documents” forced federal agencies to be more transparent when they issued guidance documents. But now because of Biden's revocation this order by Trump, agencies have been set lose on the American people.  

What are Guidance documents? They are documents produced by agencies to help people understand how an agency might interpret its own regulations. When creating these documents, agencies don’t have to follow the fleshed out process that normal regulations go through. And before President Trump’s Order, they were created with even less transparency: there was no public comment process and they weren’t centrally published anywhere; so the people affected by them couldn’t even be guaranteed to find them. Issuing guidance documents was the quick and dirty way for agencies to issue rules.  

That is a problem. While Federal Aviation Administration regulations are only about 2 inches thick when printed, FAA guidance’s totaled over 40 feet; and that was in 1992.    

Guidance’s aren’t legally binding, but for the farmer or the small business owner who can’t afford to hire teams of lawyers to navigate complex and technical regulation, they have become dependent on guidance documents to help ensure they are being compliant with the law. Just because a court may toss out a guidance, that doesn't mean average Americans can afford the risk of investigations, lawsuits, and damage to their reputation that will occur while waiting for a judge to do that.   

President Trump’s Executive Order took steps in the right direction to require that agencies “establish or maintain on its website a single, searchable, indexed database that contains or links to all guidance documents in effect from such agency or component.” The EO also placed some basic requirements for issuing guidance documents such as requiring public comments and detailing how the public can petition such guidance. Trump’s EO also required review of certain guidance by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), giving them oversight similar to what formal regulations experience.  

In response to President Biden’s revocation of this order, a group of 21 Senators, led by Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, wrote a letter this week to President Biden expressing their condemnation of his revocation of President Trump’s order without good reason. The letter points out that Trump’s Executive Order was based on bipartisan legislation that even Vice-President Kamala Harris voted for. The letter goes on to point out that it's only fair that the regulated be able to know what is required of them.  

While we can only hope that agencies will continue to voluntarily comply with these good governance practices, President Biden’s revocation of EO 13891 is a sad example of how the swamp waters of Washington will always be affected by the tides of red tape.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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Senate Bill Offers Commonsense, Cost-saving Fix on Pretrial Detention for Nonviolent Drug Offenses

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Posted by Noah Vehafric on Friday, September 11th, 2020, 6:58 PM PERMALINK

This week saw the introduction of a bill in the U.S. Senate to remove an unnecessary presumption that people accused of many nonviolent drug offenses be detained pre-trial.

Removing this line gives judges more discretion, and means those accused of nonviolent offenses who pose little-to-no-risk to public safety or flight risk can be released, while others will still be jailed. There is also potential to save taxpayer dollars.

The “Smarter Pretrial Detention for Drug Charges Act of 2020” removes a statutory presumption that judges must use to hold persons accused of nonviolent drug offenses in detention while awaiting their trial.

When a person is arrested and accused of a crime, it is the job of the judge to determine whether or not they should be detained or be released while waiting the date of their trial.

The current bail statute lists a series of factors that the judge must take into consideration when making this decision, such as whether or not they are a flight risk, or pose a danger to a person or the community.

The bail law however also lists offenses that require the judge to presume the defendant ought to be detained while awaiting trial. Among the crimes in this list are many nonviolent drug offenses.

Of all persons accused of non-immigration federal crimes, 42% of those are related to nonviolent drug offenses. This prejudice in favor detaining defendants before trial is hard to overcome. 60% of persons accused of nonviolent drug offenses end up being detained while awaiting their trial. Worse yet, being held in pre-trial detention greatly increases the chances of receiving a longer sentence if convicted for the crime they are accused.

The Bill introduced by Senators Lee and Durbin is a simple and effective solution that deserves broad support.

Photo Credit: Eric Haynes

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