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[liberationtech] Fear of Repression Spurs Scholars and Activists to Build Alternate Internets

Dan Blah dan.blah at gmail.com
Sat Sep 24 07:11:24 PDT 2011


More on the "Internet in a suitcase"

https://tech.chambana.net/projects/commotion/wiki/Roadmap

On Sat Sep 24 14:59:29 2011, Frank Corrigan wrote:
> The article spurred me on to locate these:
>
> FreedomBox
> http://wiki.debian.org/FreedomBox
>
> Enabling private conversations online
> We're building software for smart devices whose engineered purpose is to
> work together to facilitate free communication among people, safely and
> securely, beyond the ambition of the strongest power to penetrate, they
> can make freedom of thought and information a permanent, ineradicable
> feature of the net that holds our souls. 
> https://www.freedomboxfoundation.org/
>
>
> Frank
>
> ----- Original message -----
> From: "Yosem Companys" <companys at stanford.edu>
> To: "Liberation Technologies" <liberationtech at lists.stanford.edu>
> Date: Fri, 23 Sep 2011 08:58:19 -0700
> Subject: [liberationtech] Fear of Repression Spurs Scholars and
> Activists to    Build Alternate Internets
>
> September 18, 2011
> Fear of Repression Spurs Scholars and Activists to Build Alternate
> Internets
> [image: College 2.0: Fear of Repression Spurs Scholars and Activists to
> Build Alternate Internets 1]
>
> Yana Paskova for The Chronicle
>
> Eben Moglen, a law professor at Columbia U., is developing the Freedom
> Box,
> a personal server that makes data harder to intercept. "The Net we have
> is
> increasingly monitored, measured, and surveilled everywhere by everybody
> all
> the time," he says. "Our Net has been turned against us."
> Enlarge
> Image<http://chronicle.com/article/Fear-of-Repression-Spurs/129049/?sid=wc&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en#>
>
> By Jeffrey R. Young
>
> Washington
>
> Computer networks proved their organizing power during the recent
> uprisings
> in the Middle East, in which Facebook pages amplified street protests
> that
> toppled dictators. But those same networks showed their weaknesses as
> well,
> such as when the Egyptian government walled off most of its citizens
> from
> the Internet in an attempt to silence protesters.
>
> That has led scholars and activists increasingly to consider the
> Internet's
> wiring as a disputed political frontier.
>
> For example, one weekend each month, a small group of computer
> programmers
> gathers at a residence here to build a homemade Internet—named Project
> Byzantium—that could go online if parts of the current global Internet
> becomes blocked by a repressive government.
>
> Using an approach called a "mesh network," the system would set up an
> informal wireless network connecting users with other nearby computers,
> which in turn would pass along the signals. The mesh network could tie
> back
> into the Internet if one of the users found a way to plug into an
> unblocked
> route. The developers recently tested an early version of their software
> at
> George Washington University (though without the official involvement of
> campus officials).
>
> The leader of the effort, who goes by the alias TheDoctor but who would
> not
> give his name, out of concern that his employer would object to the
> project,
> says he fears that some day repressive measures could be put into place
> in
> the United States.
>  Enlarge
>  Image<http://chronicle.com/article/Fear-of-Repression-Spurs/129049/?sid=wc&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en#>[image:
> College 2.0: Fear of Repression Spurs Scholars and Activists to Build
> Alternate Internets 2]
>
> He is not the only one with such apprehensions. Next month The­Doctor
> will
> join hundreds of like-minded high-tech activists and entrepreneurs in
> New
> York at an unusual conference called the Contact
> Summit<http://contactcon.com/>.
> One of the participants is Eben Moglen, a professor at Columbia Law
> School
> who has built an encryption device and worries about a recent attempt by
> Wisconsin politicians to search a professor's e-mail. The summit's goal
> is
> not just to talk about the projects, but also to connect with potential
> financial backers, recruit programmers, and brainstorm approaches to
> building parallel Internets and social networks.
>
> The meeting is a sign of the growing momentum of what is called the
> "free-network movement," whose leaders are pushing to rewire online
> networks
> to make it harder for a government or corporation to exert what some
> worry
> is undue control or surveillance. Another key concern is that the
> Internet
> has not lived up to its social potential to connect people, and instead
> has
> become overrun by marketing and promotion efforts by large corporations.
>
> At the heart of the movement is the idea that seemingly mundane
> technical
> specifications of Internet routers and social-networking software
> platforms
> have powerful political implications. In virtual realms, programmers
> essentially set the laws of physics, or at least the rules of
> interaction,
> for their cyberspaces. If it sometimes seems that media pundits treat
> Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg or Apple's Steve Jobs as gods, that's because
> in
> a sense they are—sitting on Mount Olympus with the power to hurl digital
> thunderbolts with a worldwide impact on people.
>
> Instead of just complaining, many of those heading to New York next
> month
> believe they can build alternatives that reduce the power of those
> virtual
> deities and give more control to mere mortals.
>
> I was surprised by the number of homegrown Internet projects described
> on
> the Contact Summit's Web site—though most of them are not yet
> operational,
> and some may never be. Among the approaches: an alternative to Facebook
> that
> promises better privacy control; a device that automatically scrambles
> e-mail and Web traffic so that only people authorized by the user can
> read
> them; and various mesh-network efforts that can essentially create an
> "Internet in a suitcase" to set up wherever unfettered Internet access
> is
> needed.
>
> Whether you see these techies as visionaries or paranoids, they
> highlight
> the extent to which networks now shape nations.
>
> "Anyone who cares about human rights anywhere should dedicate themselves
> to
> building these systems," is how Yochai Benkler, co-director of the
> Berkman
> Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, put it when I
> asked
> him about the trend.
>  Bazaar 2.0
>
> One organizer of the Contact Summit, Douglas Rushkoff, compares the
> disruptive power of the Internet to the impact of bazaars in the Middle
> Ages.
>
> In his latest book, *Program or Be Programmed* (OR Books), he argues
> that
> the earliest bazaars helped transform feudal society by allowing
> vigorous
> information sharing—a low-tech peer-to-peer network. "Everyone was
> speaking
> with everybody else, and about all sorts of things and ideas," he
> writes.
> "All this information exchange allowed people to improve on themselves
> and
> their situations," allowing craftsmen to form guilds and share
> techniques.
> "As the former peasants rose to become a middle class of merchants and
> crafts­people, they were no longer dependent on feudal lords for food
> and
> protection."
>
> The Internet has created a bazaar 2.0, says Mr. Rushkoff, accelerating
> information exchange and giving people the power to organize in new
> ways.
>
> At least so far. Mr. Rushkoff argues that companies and governments are
> gaining too much power, in ways that could limit communication in the
> future. Facebook, for instance, is a centralized system that forces
> users to
> run communications through its servers—and, he observes, its main goal
> is to
> make money by analyzing data about users and sharing that information
> with
> advertisers.
>
> "The Internet that we know and love is not up to the task of being both
> a
> fully commercial network and a people's infrastructure," Mr. Rushkoff
> told
> me. "The Net is not a marketing opportunity—it's something much bigger
> than
> that."
>
> One idea: Create two parallel Internets, one run and optimized for banks
> and
> entertainment giants (like Netflix, whose streaming movies take up more
> and
> more of total bandwidth), and the other for academic research, civic
> discourse, and independent artists. He points to Internet2, a high-speed
> research network run by universities, as a step in the right direction.
> But
> that network is available only on select campuses.
>
> Perhaps other approaches will emerge that are designed to encourage the
> kind
> of peer-to-peer trading of information that Mr. Rushkoff prefers. To
> encourage that, the Contact Summit will organize a bazaar of its own,
> where
> participants can seek supporters for their projects. The organizers plan
> to
> award start-up grants to a few projects on the basis of a competition.
> "This
> is a conference of doers and people looking for counsel and
> collaborators,"
> Mr. Rushkoff explains.
>
> He acknowledges that the crowd he is gathering can be hard to herd,
> though:
> "There are people who are afraid to come to Contact because they think
> they're going to be hacked or tracked or injected with something. There
> are
> a lot of loonies out there."
>  Protecting Privacy
>
> One developer who is eager to go the summit is Mr. Moglen, the law
> professor. He's leading the development of a device called the Freedom
> Box,
> and though it doesn't look like much—a gadget the size of a paperback
> book—he believes that it would be able to help Internet users preserve
> their
> privacy.
>
> The concept: It's a personal server, which automatically scrambles
> digital
> data to make them harder for unauthorized people to intercept. The idea
> is
> to create a personal "cloud," or online storage space, for data before
> the
> information is sent to standard e-mail or Web services.
>
> Mr. Moglen and a team of programmers are developing the software under
> the
> auspices of the FreedomBox Foundation, a nonprofit organization, and
> plan to
> release it under an open license that lets anyone use and modify it. The
> initial Freedom Box code is expected to hit the Web in the next week or
> two,
> although it is more of a framework for developers at this point and
> lacks
> most of the planned features.
>
> For Mr. Moglen the work is part of a longtime mission. *The Chronicle*
> profiled
> him <http://chronicle.com/article/The-dotCommunist/18635/> several years
> ago, soon after he founded the Software Freedom Law Center and published
> what he called *The dotCommunist Manifesto.*
>
> In the manifesto, he argues that all software should be developed by
> groups
> under free licenses rather than by companies out to make profit. Critics
> have called his approach extreme and unworkable, but in some areas
> open-source software has gained ground in recent years.
>
> "The Net we have is increasingly monitored, measured, and surveilled
> everywhere by everybody all the time, or at least by somebody who's
> doing it
> for somebody else and would answer a subpoena if they got one," he
> argued at
> a conference this year. "Our Net has been turned against us."
>
> In an interview, Mr. Moglen emphasizes that professors in particular
> should
> send their communications through his device. The reason? "Two words:
> William Cronon."
>
> Mr. Cronon, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin at
> Madison,
> was recently the subject of an unusual public-records request by a
> political
> group. The Republican Party of Wisconsin asked the university to turn
> over a
> batch of e-mail messages by the professor containing certain keywords,
> as *The
> Chronicle*
> reported,<http://chronicle.com/article/Wisconsin-GOP-Seeks-E-Mails-of/126911/>
> after
> he wrote a blog post examining how conservative groups had helped craft
> controversial legislation, including the 2011 measure to strip Wisconsin
> public employees of collective-bargaining rights.
>
> Mr. Cronon believes that Republican officials were hunting for evidence
> that
> he had violated state law by using his state-university account for
> political speech, which he denies doing. He says other professors might
> be
> discouraged from speaking publicly on controversial issues, for fear
> their
> e-mail messages, too, might be sought by critics.
>
> Some free-Internet projects have been under development for some time,
> and
> many professors and business leaders have long encrypted their e-mail
> messages. But there is a new emphasis on making such systems easier to
> use
> and bringing them to a wider audience, says Sascha Meinrath, director of
> the
> Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation.
>
> "We're trying to move them out of the geekosphere and get them into
> mainstream use," he told me.
>
> And there's evidence of that happening. This summer the foundation
> received
> a $2-million grant from the State Department to build its own mesh
> network,
> which could be set up by dissidents abroad to avoid censors. That's the
> system being called an "Internet in a suitcase."
>
> Proponents of mesh projects like Byzantium say they can provide a
> different
> kind of Internet freedom—a connection that comes at no cost.
> Potentially,
> mesh networks could be set up and shared as free community networks.
>
> For activists like TheDoctor, that kind of freedom can give low-income
> users
> a chance to access information that could help improve their lives.
>
> "If a single Byzantium node gave a single person access to MIT's open
> courseware," he says, "the whole project would be a success."
>
> College 2.0 covers how new technologies are changing colleges. Please
> send
> ideas tojeff.young at chronicle.com or @jryoung on Twitter.
>
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-- 
Dan Blah
pgp 0x36377134



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