nettime's avid reader on Sat, 19 Feb 2011 11:37:40 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Decentralizing the Internet So Big Brother Canât Find You

NYT, February 15, 2011

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 â this time, without governments and big companies able to 
watch every twitch of our fingers.

The list begins with âcheap, small, low-power plug servers,â Mr. Moglen 
said. âA small device the size of a cellphone charger, running on a low-
power chip. You plug it into the wall and forget about it.â

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.

âThey will get very cheap, very quick,â Mr. Moglen said. âTheyâre $99; they 
will go to $69. Once everyone is getting them, they will cost $29.â

The missing ingredients are software packages, which are available at no 
cost but have to be made easy to use. âYou would have a whole system with 
privacy and security built in for the civil world we are living in,â he 
said. âIt stores everything you care about.â

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.

âWe have to aim our engineering more directly at politics now,â he said. 
âWhat 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.â

Not many law professors have Mr. Moglenâs 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 â and successfully â 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 Googleâs 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, âbut 
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.â

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.

âIt 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,â 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 âsubversiveâ material.

In response to Mr. Moglenâs 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 

Mr. Moglen said that if he could raise âslightly north of $500,000,â 
Freedom Box 1.0 would be ready in one year.

âWe should make this far better for the people trying to make change than 
for the people trying to make oppression,â Mr. Moglen said. âBeing 
connected works.â 

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info:
#  archive: contact: