In the midst of the “calm” of media outlets regarding the North African revolutions, despite their ongoing civil war and immense revolutionary progress, I find an article about a Georgian woman now dubbed “the spade-hacker”.
“It was a 75-year-old woman who was digging for copper in the ground so that she could sell it for scrap,” said a spokesman for Georgia’s interior ministry said yesterday.
The Spade-Hacker, merely interested in finding scrap copper, accidentally cut off the internet infrastructure for internet services to the neighbouring country Armenia. Apparently 90% of the Armenian internet traffic is routed through Georgia.
The cable is owned by the Georgian railway network. It is heavily protected, but landslides or heavy rain may have exposed it to scavengers.
Not only do I find the fact that 90% of traffic is routed through a single fiber-optic trench highly unreliable. It also pops to mind that this cable very well might be damaged for just about any reason, meaning it should receive much more maintenance attention.
Given that Georgia is still under certain military and social pressure from Russia, all my reasoning regarding unreliable and unmaintained cables lead to the fact that should anyone want to cut communications – all you need is a spade. This of course emphasizes the risk of anyone with bad intentions to severely hurt a nation’s ability to reach out to the world. Adding the use of centralised, external services such as Twitter (as opposed to for example StatusNet), there are no easy, good – commonly used – ways to communicate within the country either.
Naturally there are other ways of communicating than by the internet. Hamradio has been suggested several times and tried by the Telecomix net activists to varying degrees of success. But as evidenced in the riots of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, etc. etc. those aren’t the ways people are used to communicating with. Thus, to ensure democratic discussion among other things, the contemporary ways of communicating must be highly prioritized as important infrastructure.
Just like a highway, the internet backbone must be taken care of and developed. More users, higher bandwidth, requires better redundancy and better reliability in the core networks. Unlike the taken-for-granted highways however, we’re not driving trucks – but exchanging information. Some argue the latter to be more important in a healthy and modern nation.
I don’t care if we solve it as a humanitarian or political dilemma, but supporting lesser developed nations with important communcation infrastructure is becoming a more and more important issue. Fortunately Sweden has uttered intentions (and decided?) on supplying assistance for “net activists”. Though of course we should not entirely trust Sweden, considering how the government is interested in not only eavesdropping on just about anyone’s communication but also tracking every single citizen and their communication habits. Even though lately a minority in the Swedish government managed to postpone the implementation of the EU data retention directive.
For more reading on Sweden’s idea of support for net activism, our minister for “International Development Cooperation” Gunilla Carlsson has written an article discussing the subject: Nätaktivister är nya demokratikämparna (“Net activists are the new fighters for democracy”). Piratpartiet has also been active in swarming up ideas for the assistance initiative.
Let’s hope something good out comes out of this, regardless of our lack of trust in politicians. We can, given the right planning and support, make it impossible to block communication in the near future. At least on a whole, using redundant infrastructure, various technologies and of course teaching as many as possible how to uphold what has been constructed. Which is only possible if what we build is free, open and standardised.