Tag Archives: Democracy

Making network infrastructure a higher priority

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.

Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden's minister for International Development Cooperation, has promised to support net activists - "the new fighters for democracy".

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.

Egypt needs gateways and everyone must help out!

Should anyone out there in my vicinity want to setup a dial-up modem service for Egyptian activists (or anyone else), so they can access an uncensored internet, I’d be happy to help.

Unfortunately I personally don’t have a regular phone line, not even IP telephony, available. No incoming cellular lines other than my cellphone at all. So I can’t personally setup a gateway using the simple method of a modem and Linux installation that other Telecomix agents have setup (first notice at Twitter on January 28th). But I have the hardware available, should anyone want to make their phone line available for this.

We are now providing dialup modem service at +46850009990. user/pass: telecomix/telecomix (only for #egypt, respect that please!).

The need is still strong, and it may prove to be very useful to spread knowledge of these technologies and the availability. Of course it’s a pity that we are required to resort to such simple things as telephone modems – but those are the facts. Egypt doesn’t want its population to act effectively against the government, possibly adding more chaos and havoc, so communications are snapped.

Should we be afraid of the same blatant misuse of power being applied during uprisings in our home countries, if we live in a reasonably calm and democratic nation? The following is quoted and translated from a text in Västerbottens Kuriren at 2011-01-30 written by Umeå-based writer P O Ågren who has long kept a close eye on internet and democracy issues:

[…] Can the same thing happen in Sweden?

No, not yet. But with the same reasons as Mubarak enforced a restriction on Internet traffic, we can find an urge to confine in Sweden: a sort of fear of the citizens’ horizontal communication and a goal to via Internet Service Providers get influence over and restrict that style of communication.

One example is the Data Retention Directive which will soon be implemented in Swedish law and implies that ISPs must store customer traffic data for six months, so that it is possible for the government to track every citizen’s communication behaviour.

The data retention directive is one of many issues Telecomix is battling in parallell with the rest of the offline and online free speech communities, such as the Swedish Journalist federation and the Swedish Pirate Party. It is a European Union law which has already been implemented in several nations and has caused quite a stir due to its draconic properties. The retention of sensitive information is also a major reason why it is a horrible piece of legislation, because it makes it obligatory and lawful to store data about calls to psychiatrists, journalists, doctors and other personal matters.

Another very risky development to look out for in our own country are the threats to net neutrality, kill switches and lobbying/pressures/laws regulating ISP liability (“mere conduit” issues). In its simplest terms: Don’t shoot the messenger.

Egypt may be chaotic and they need our help. But we can’t forget about our local governments’ and corporations’ attempts to abuse – or lay the grounds for abusing – their power. This struggle always needs more people involved – and since it is in the interest of the ordinary inhabitant, I (and many others) urge everyone to activate your average friends in politics and the current events around the world!

Egypt disconnects internet cable – viva la revolución!

Swedish news mentions it (and international too)and the graphics paint a clear picture – Egypt has basically disconnected its internet connection. Telecomix, among others, is an organisation trying to help Egyptians communicate with the outside world. TV4 recently called me to ask “how Telecomix are trying to help” – and what does one do when internet fails? Radio communication, and that’s what is most important right now. Several Telecomix agents have already succeeded in building an information spreading communication network with reporting entities in Egypt.

Egypt the undemocratic state has disconnected major parts of its external internet connection

As further protests against incumbent President Hosni Mubarak’s rule sweep the nation, Internet traffic from the country has dropped to a fraction of its previous levels – with some Internet monitoring services claiming a dip of between 88 and 98 per cent.

I would like you to take this into account when choosing where you’re going on your vacation. Do you really wish to support states like these for your own enjoyment? It is no news that these nations are corrupt, power hungry and disrespect basic human liberties.

The events taking place today in Egypt are merely a result of the lack of respect for human and civil rights in that nation. This has now spread, since shit hit the fan, to actually disconnecting major parts of the internet and phone communications in Egypt (compare with US talk on internet kill switch):

Statement – Vodafone Egypt
All mobile operators in Egypt have been instructed to suspend services in selected areas. Under Egyptian legislation the authorities have the right to issue such an order and we are obliged to comply with it. The Egyptian authorities will be clarifying the situation in due course .

We are in Telecomix trying to establish amateur/ham radio connections to allow communication inside and outside of Egypt. These connections are much harder to block for an oppressive regime and thus a necessary alternative when the internet is inaccessible.

Latest news from the hamradio pad is:

40m band, 7.050-7.200 MHz LSB, focusing on 7.110, 318.5 degrees(northwest/north from cairo), Saturday night until the morning (16:00-05:00 UTC). ON/KC0SJH will be calling CQ

For anyone interested in helping out, get on IRC! #jan25 for Egypt discussions and #hamradio for making communications work out. The network is irc.telecomix.org or direct chat for #telecomix.

There is no way to stop communication. If you do, someone always finds a way around it. Information must be spread. Never stop transmitting, never stop sharing. Tell the world around you what is happening. Let the events in Tunisia and Egypt make their way out into neighbouring countries. Let the events spread throughout the world. What happens far away may happen close to you. When do we stop accepting oppressive nations “near home”? When are attempts to censor and filter in our own democratic nations too much – and when will the international information revolution begin?

Has it perhaps already begun?

Weird excuses for raid at Forskningsavdelningen

This is totally insane. The Malmö police accuse the raided hackerspace “Forskningsavdelningen” of preparing grand theft. Insane, me tells ya!

I can understand the misunderstanding by the police and the accusation of “preparing illegal data access” (…or cracking security, I should say). Calling a workshop “hackerspace” doesn’t neatly define the actual meaning of the term hacker for uneducated people. Many thus confuse it with “cracker”.

It’s not excusable, but I’ve never had much faith in IT competence within the law enforcement agencies. So the misunderstanding is understandable and could be totally innocent. At least if it weren’t for some actual, hardcore slander and libel:

Brottsrubriceringarna är brott mot alkohollagen, brott mot speciallagstiftning – brandfarliga och explosiva varor, föreberedelse till grov stöld och dataintrång, säger kommissarie J-B Cederholm vid länskriminalpolisen.

Sydsvenskan.se 30 november

The text in italic translates from Swedish to “The crime classifications are […] preparing grand theft and illegal data access  […] says commissary J-B Cederholm at the county detective agency” (county police).

And what is this based on? Lock picking devices and key cutting machines. Forskningsavdelningen explain this themselves with having the lecture/workshop Hacknight in July this year (2009). That as well as simply the general interest of lock mechanisms. It’s not preparing for anything, it’s just general knowledge for the heck of it.

Some might even say it’s good that people learn this, so that for example ASSA [Abloy] can’t keep selling expensive locks which are cracked in a matter of seconds (for which you don’t need a lock picking device anyway). Heck, there are even large, international championships in lock picking.

Further on, key cutting machines are in no way illegal to possess or use. There are licenses in Sweden for certain types of blank keys that are used for higher security locks. None of the licensed key types were available at Forskningsavdelningen though. Nothing has been mentioned about the legality on the issue by the police either.

So this just reeks of bullshit. Forskningsavdelningen did not plan any crimes. Merely reading about making a chokladboll doesn’t mean you’re actually going to. Even if you have the ingredients in your cupboard. Even if you have an urge for something sweet.

This is what we call morals.
This is what society relies on.

It’s the simple fact that law enforcement should not be engaged unless an actual crime has been committed. Innocent people should not be treated as criminals. Forskningsavdelningen have clearly been harassed by the Swedish police. The sooner an apology comes, the better.

And if they also get their equipment back, they can keep making disco lights.