Digital Lockdown: A Way Out

December 11th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized

Digital Imprimatur by John Walker is what the original internet could end up looking like if cooler heads do not prevail. As Stephen Levy describes it:

Picture, if you will, an information infrastructure that encourages censorship, surveillance and suppression of the creative impulse. Where anonymity is outlawed and every penny spent is accounted for. Where the powers that be can smother subversive (or economically competitive) ideas in the cradle, and no one can publish even a laundry list without the imprimatur of Big Brother. Some prognosticators are saying that such a construct is nearly inevitable. And this infrastructure is none other than the former paradise of rebels and free-speechers: the Internet.

However, I see a way out, which I will do my best to describe below. If anyone can see a weakness in my network (or how to enhance it!), please don’t hesitate to comment below or email me. All ideas will be considered and posted with your permission. This issue is too important not to be solved.


An internet by the people for the people.

Currently the internet is very centralized. People say it isn’t, but all the main functions, the DNS servers, and the main pipes all go through major carriers and companies pipelines. The protocols for this network are governed by ICANN and soon possibly the UN itself. More and more people are getting online through large cable and telco carriers, making access all the more centralized and controlled by the biggest players. All this is adequately described in the Digital Imprimatur above. There are good and bad reasons for the lockdown, but it still will be that – a lockdown. And there is probably little any one of us can do to stop it’s inevitable occurrence.

However, what is to stop you, me or anyone else from setting up our own seperate but parallel adhoc local network in our neighborhoods?


Using very cheap off-the shelf hardware available at radio shack anyone will soon be able to build a GNU Radio that will be able to communicate with anyone else’s GNU Radio. These radios will be general purpose wireless computing devices that communicate over the open airwaves. Regulated or not, these devices will flourish underground rapidly as there power to connect and network become apparent. It’s only a matter of time before a general purpose GNU Radio ends up in the hands of anyone who wants to get one. While the internet gets more locked down, Microsoft implements strong DRM, and even more ominous lockdowns are put in place along the network itself, more and more hobbiest will be computing and communicating with these handheld units and modified laptops and other devices. The chips running from them will also be modified, cheap and out of control. Certainly they will not be as powerful as the latest Intel or AMD processors with all the DRM built into them, but they will function as general purpose devices without any of those restrictions. Their range could easily extend beyond a mile, and I also suspect you’ll start seeing people add rogue (maybe at some point illegal) solar powered repeaters and routers on mountains tops to help one community of GNU users communicate with another community.

The beauty of this idea, is it will become very popular as people quickly realize they can enjoy the benefits of the old internet once again. People will still use the old internet to do boring business transactions and access information allowed by government censors, but when people want to do what they have always done on the internet before commercial and government interests took over, they’ll switch over to the new internet.

This new internet will not be limited to GNU radios, only that the GNU radio concept will form the kernal of the infrastructure of how it will switch and route traffic from one mesh-network to another. Premium prices will be fetched for older non-DRM motherboards and processors, and a black market of non-DRM chips and motherboards will make their way into the country like the smuggling of drugs once were. It will be big business for smaller, economically disadvantaged countries and/or underground fab plants to make these devices. And while I can see that the governments will go to war against this free internet, as incredulous as that sounds, it will be unstoppable, just as drugs have been. And as the drug war is an unwinnable proposition, so will this new war against free information. It may take many years, but the old guard  the old business models are doomed to failure. This coming dark age and death of the internet as we’ve come to love it, is these behemoths making a last ditch effort to save themselves from extinction.

Another possibility is someone could create a general purpose computing emulator that would run on top of existing locked down hardware and software. This emulator would be a general purpose computer, and as such could emulate all the old programs and OS’s. Using strong encryption and other clever stealth p2p methods, a general purpose totally free internet could emerge anyway. The argument is would such a program be difficult to everyone but the hardest core nerds, and the answer is no, because the demand for its use would be too high to keep it complex for long. This demand met by eager “shit disturbing” programmers will endeavor to bring such an easy to use program to people as quickly as possible.

Another possibility is some clever combination of these two strategies. GNU radio devices connect to DRM computers accessing the internet via general purpose emulators, which in turn route their encrypted data disguised as other more harmless data, transferring it overseas to other peoples ad-hoc mesh-networks of GNU radios in their country. If this can be pulled off, then we’d have the internet back as we once knew it.

The end result is whether we go the hardware route using GNU radios, the software route using general computing emulators, or the clever combination fo the two, it’s merely an escalation between the power of control the spirit of freedom. My guess is this freedom will continue to be sustained long enough that the old models will no longer be able to maintain their existence in the face of it. Those that are left will have to accept that some of us desire to communicate freely and there is little or nothing you can do to stop us. Sure, we’ll use your internet, which I think should be called the real darknet, to do so-called “legitimate” transactions, and will use the free “lightnet” for the rest of our fun.


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