geert on Fri, 22 Feb 2002 04:14:01 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] Launched: the Peek-A-Booty Project

(you cannot yet download the peek-a-booty software. geert)

About the Peek-A-Booty Project
The concept and the code

Our mission

The goal of the Peekabooty Project is to create a product that can bypass
the nation-wide censorship of the World Wide Web practiced by many

The free, easy and quick exchange of information possible on the Internet is
seen as a threat by governments in countries where a free press and freedom
of expression are not considered to the parts of their people's rights. Such
a government would have two options. The first would be to completely ban
use of the Internet. This is an impractical measure, as it would close off
that country to business opportunities and technological innovation. The
preferred option is to make use of filtering computers and software - called
firewalls in technological parlance - that make only those Web pages
approved by the government available to their citizens.

In layperson's terms: firewalls act as intermediaries between users and the
rest of the Internet. In countries where the Web is censored, the only way
to access the Internet is through the firewalls. A user enters a URL - the
address of a Web page - into his or her browser. This URL gets passed to the
firewall, which checks to see if it is one of those banned by the
government. If the URL is not on the list, the firewall forwards the request
for the Web page and the contents of the page are relayed back to the user,
who can then read it. If the URL is on the banned list the firewall refuses
to forward the request and sends a page back to user indicating that the
page he or she requested cannot be viewed by order of the government.

In addition to barring access to specified Web sites, firewalls can also
monitor the data that passes through them. They can be configured to look
for content that the government considers inappropriate or subversive and
either make a note of who requested the content or simply break the
connection. 21 countries currently censor the World Wide Web. These
countries are populated by a hundreds of millions of people who have been
denied access to information by their goverment. We want to create software
that will give these people the free access to information on that Web that
we enjoy.

How it works

Peekabooty is software that enables people inside countries where the Web is
censored to bypass those censorship measures. The theory behind it is
simple: bypass the firewalls by providing an alternate intermediary to the
World Wide Web.

Peekabooty takes advantage of three things:

  a.. Fast computers and Internet connections are becoming increasingly
available at prices that ordinary people can afford. The speed at which
ordinary computers can process information and access the Internet is such
that ordinary people can run Web servers and services on their home
computers and home broadband connections. Today's home computers are so fast
that they can perform many simultaneous tasks with little, if any, perceived

  b.. National firewalls allow partial access to the Internet. It would be
harmful to a country's economic and technological well-being to block out
the Internet entirely. Firewalls prevent access only to Internet addresses
that appear on their "banned" lists. A government running such a firewall
would have to be aware of a Web site that had content they did not want
their citizens to see and then add it to the list. A government would likely
be aware of high-profile sites run by large media organizations and human
rights groups; it may also be aware of lesser-known sites, such as those run
by their former citizens living in exile. However, it is unlikely that they
will block access to an Internet address of a home computer they've never
heard of.

  c.. Concerned citizens around the world have embraced the philosophy of
"thinking globally and acting locally". Now more than ever, people are
concerned about matters "beyond their own back yard," such as the
environment and human rights issues. They are giving to charities, taking
part in demonstrations and joining or contributing to activist
organizations. We are offering a way for concerned people to make a
difference with minimal effort.
Peekabooty is software run by "global-thinking, local-acting" people in
countries that do not censor the Internet. A user in a country that censors
the Internet connects to the ad hoc network of computers running Peekabooty.
A small number of randomly selected computers in the network retrieves the
Web pages and relays them back to the user. As far the censoring firewall is
concerned, the user is simply accessing some computer not on its "banned"
list. The retrieved Web pages are encrypted using the de facto standard for
secure transactions in order to prevent the firewall from examining the Web
pages' contents. Since the encryption used is a secure transaction standard,
it will look like an ordinary e-business transaction to the firewall.

Users in countries where the Internet is censored do not necessarily need to
install any software. They merely need to make a simple change to their
Internet settings so that their access to the World Wide Web is mediated by
the Peekabooty network. Installing the software makes the process of
connecting to the Internet simpler and allows users to take fuller advantage
of the Peekabooty network.

"Global-thinking, local-acting" people in countries that do not censor the
Internet install Peekabooty, which can run "in the background" while they
use their computer for their day-to-day work. It doubles as a screen saver
that displays its status as well as information about human rights and

Peekabooty can be classified as a distributed or peer-to-peer application.
This means that its actions are the result of several computers working
collectively rather than a single computer doing all the work. The
distributed nature of Peekabooty makes it harder for a hostile government or
group to shut it down. Given enough users, it would be almost impossible to
block access to or otherwise disable all the computers in the Peekabooty
network. Each computer in the Peekabooty network "knows" of only a few other
computers in the network. This makes it more difficult for a hostile
government to discover the Internet addresses of Peekabooty machines and add
them to their "banned" lists or target them for "cracking".

People behind the Peekabooty Project

The Peekabooty Project is currently staffed by these people, who are working
as volunteers:

  a.. Paul Baranowski (also known by his pseudonym "Drunken Master") is the
project leader, architect and lead programmer.
  b.. Joey deVilla is the user interface programmer and assists Paul with
developer relations.
  c.. Chris Cummer maintains the Web site at
Joey deVilla


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