[FoRK] Decentralizing the Internet So Big Brother Canbt Find You

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Fri Feb 18 10:53:19 PST 2011

I was really interested in Plug Computers a year or two ago, and I have a 
couple development units.  For this kind of application, it seems that a 
certain range of applications, like personal servers and remote access to 
archives, is obvious (and there is an "app plug computer" for that, about 
$100).  For really solving the decentralized problem, you'd want to pair it 
with mesh communications.  I see several possibilities.  Wifi-Wifi would be 
great, but there are antenna and power issues in many cases.  
Wifi-cellphone-picocell is more interesting because cell phones already can 
make significantly more distance than typical WiFi.  This is also 
interesting if you add in resilient routing / store and forward / dynamic 
multi-modal addressing (including geo).  Ideally, you can cover any 
distance and gaps for at least some transmission, and great transmission 
when possible, by opportunistically hitching a ride on any device to any 
device proximity.

These devices (plug computers, smart phones, picocells, wifi base stations, 
bluetooth, zigbee) are inexpensive and low power enough that they could be 
just about everywhere.  Every vehicle, street light / signal, business, 
person, and even important street surfaces and similar could be wirelessed 
with an open, cooperative, protocol.  Doing it while controlling abuse and  
making use fair is the problem.

The biggest hard problem is probably preventing bombing by e-signal.  Some 
possible solutions: A) blackout in appropriate conditions (hard to prevent 
abuse of) and B) super-tracing / persistent following after the fact when a 
bad event happens and enough people vote for extreme transparency.  In 
other words, detect the explosion or whatever, people hit the panic button, 
and every possible trigger is tracked back to a likely source and those 
sources are tracked for some time using all methods.

There are a number of obvious apps for this kind of network: shotspotter (a 
la Bump) for all devices.  Person-aware (what I mentioned yesterday a la 
traffic safety to prevent hitting children and animals in congested traffic 
areas).  Emergency service / help expediting.


On 2/17/11 8:04 AM, Eugen Leitl wrote:
> http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/16/nyregion/16about.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print
> Decentralizing the Internet So Big Brother Canbt Find You
> On Tuesday afternoon, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke in
> Washington about the Internet and human liberty, a Columbia law professor in
> Manhattan, Eben Moglen, was putting together a shopping list to rebuild the
> Internet b this time, without governments and big companies able to watch
> every twitch of our fingers.
> The list begins with bcheap, small, low-power plug servers,b Mr. Moglen said.
> bA small device the size of a cellphone charger, running on a low-power chip.
> You plug it into the wall and forget about it.b
> Almost anyone could have one of these tiny servers, which are now produced
> for limited purposes but could be adapted to a full range of Internet
> applications, he said.
> bThey will get very cheap, very quick,b Mr. Moglen said. bTheybre $99; they
> will go to $69. Once everyone is getting them, they will cost $29.b
> The missing ingredients are software packages, which are available at no cost
> but have to be made easy to use. bYou would have a whole system with privacy
> and security built in for the civil world we are living in,b he said. bIt
> stores everything you care about.b
> Put free software into the little plug server in the wall, and you would have
> a Freedom Box that would decentralize information and power, Mr. Moglen said.
> This month, he created the Freedom Box Foundation to organize the software.
> bWe have to aim our engineering more directly at politics now,b he said.
> bWhat has happened in Egypt is enormously inspiring, but the Egyptian state
> was late to the attempt to control the Net and not ready to be as remorseless
> as it could have been.b
> Not many law professors have Mr. Moglenbs credentials as lawyer and geek, or,
> for that matter, his record as an early advocate for what looked like very
> long shots.
> Growing up on the West Side of Manhattan, he began fooling around with
> computers as a boy. In 1973, at age 14, he was employed writing programs for
> the Scientific Time Sharing Corporation. At 26, he was a young lawyer,
> clerking for Justice Thurgood Marshall. Later, he got a Ph.D. in history from
> Yale. He was also the lawyer for the Free Software Foundation, headed by
> Richard M. Stallman, which aggressively b and successfully b protected the
> ability of computer scientists, hackers and hobbyists to build software that
> was not tied up by copyright, licensing and patents.
> In the first days of the personal computer era, many scoffed at the idea that
> free software could have an important place in the modern world. Today, it is
> the digital genome for millions of phones, printers, cameras, MP3 players,
> televisions, the Pentagon, the New York Stock Exchange and the computers that
> underpin Googlebs empire.
> This month, Mr. Moglen, who now runs the Software Freedom Law Center, spoke
> to a convention of 2,000 free-software programmers in Brussels, urging them
> to get to work on the Freedom Box.
> Social networking has changed the balance of political power, he said, bbut
> everything we know about technology tells us that the current forms of social
> network communication, despite their enormous current value for politics, are
> also intensely dangerous to use. They are too centralized; they are too
> vulnerable to state retaliation and control.b
> In January, investors were said to have put a value of about $50 billion on
> Facebook, the social network founded by Mark Zuckerberg. If revolutions for
> freedom rest on the shoulders of Facebook, Mr. Moglen said, the
> revolutionaries will have to count on individuals who have huge stakes in
> keeping the powerful happy.
> bIt is not hard, when everybody is just in one big database controlled by Mr.
> Zuckerberg, to decapitate a revolution by sending an order to Mr. Zuckerberg
> that he cannot afford to refuse,b Mr. Moglen said.
> By contrast, with tens of thousands of individual encrypted servers, there
> would be no one place where a repressive government could find out who was
> publishing or reading bsubversiveb material.
> In response to Mr. Moglenbs call for help, a group of developers working in a
> free operating system called Debian have started to organize Freedom Box
> software. Four students from New York University who heard a talk by Mr.
> Moglen last year have been building a decentralized social network called
> Diaspora.
> Mr. Moglen said that if he could raise bslightly north of $500,000,b Freedom
> Box 1.0 would be ready in one year.
> bWe should make this far better for the people trying to make change than for
> the people trying to make oppression,b Mr. Moglen said. bBeing connected
> works.b
> E-mail: dwyer at nytimes.com
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