Low-tech High Tech

by wjw on June 28, 2011


Via Chris Mills, it’s the tale of FabFi’s contribution to the movement for Internet freedom sponsored by, among other things, the American government.

The American effort, revealed in dozens of interviews, planning documents and classified diplomatic cables obtained by The New York Times, ranges in scale, cost and sophistication.

Some projects involve technology that the United States is developing; others pull together tools that have already been created by hackers in a so-called liberation-technology movement sweeping the globe.

The State Department, for example, is financing the creation of stealth wireless networks that would enable activists to communicate outside the reach of governments in countries like Iran, Syria and Libya, according to participants in the projects. . .

. . . “We’re going to build a separate infrastructure where the technology is nearly impossible to shut down, to control, to surveil,” said Sascha Meinrath, who is leading the “Internet in a suitcase” project as director of the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan research group.

What happens when an oppressive government shuts down the Internet, denying your inalienable right to organize, protest, express yourself, engage in flamewar, and play Free Realms?  You build your own Internet out of tin cans and baling wire, of course!

The FabFi people are doing this in freakin’ Afghanistan. Which didn’t even have a cell tower until 2002.  From their blog:

I think there are maybe three kinds of places in Afghanistan:

  1. There are safer, quieter places that have known better times and whose residents are working to get back to those better times. There’s still crime and killing but it’s a shocking event when it occurs.

  2. Poor, forgotten places that have never known modernization and are harder hit by economic problems (some of which we’ve unwittingly caused).

  3. Places like Kandahar with an almost insidious infestation of crazy. Remember those boys that would pull the wings off of bugs and set ants on fire? Beliefs aside, an environment like Kandahar doesn’t provide the social pressure that prevents them from growing up into full fledge people-hurting psychopaths . . .

. . . The third are places like Kandahar, which is our biggest opportunity. Mel King, famous community organizer in Boston, often says that “the wheels in the back of the bus never catch up to the wheels in the front unless something extraordinary occurs”. Fighting over raisins, road tolls, heck, fighting over fighting, these are the things that they know about. “New” doesn’t always mean good on it’s own right, but in this case “new” can simply bewilder long enough for the skinny gimpy-legged kid to grab the football and run. Mixed metaphors, I know. It’s late.

Ya gotta admire these people.   Enough tin cans and hacker savvy, and we can all have our own off-grid Internet.  I’m expecting at any moment to see plans for a butane-powered steampunk computer.

It also has to be said that this is a project with “blowback” written all over it.  Will Uncle Sam be happy when these technologies are used in North America to bypass the NSA taps on our emails, and to aid white supremacists, anti-WTO anarchists, and Islamic radicals in communicating and organizing?

Here’s the chance to find out if we’ll really like for ourselves the freedoms we preach to others.  How are we betting on this?

Sean Craven June 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm

What I find interesting is how this seems to run contrary to a lot of rulings regarding the ‘real’ internet that seem to be driven more by copyright issues than anything else. It’s as if the second right hand top doesn’t know what the third left hand middle is doing.

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