Digital Lockdown: Ming’s Response

December 15th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Ming has an excellent response to the Digital Imprimatur and my post. He mentioned that open source is gaining ground every day, and competition of chip manufacturing, especially in Asia should help keep competition alive that could ameliorate wide-spread adoption of DRM at the chip level. He agrees that the centralized traffic map of the net is a bad sign, as few pipes are much easier to control than p2p meshnetworks. But getting a meshnetwork across oceans without an expensive pipe or satellite is not possible as far as I can tell. There is still the emulation/encryption model I suggested, but I’m no expert and don’t know of its feasibility.

Ming concludes with the following:

So, is the answer to just implement these things whether it is legal or not?

Well, I’d say that the strategy ought to be to put technologies in place that are inherently controlled by their users or grassroots groups, rather than central control, and which can be easily configured for a variety of uses. Like that GNU Radio thing. Or mesh network protocols. Or like Linux. Or like file sharing. Or open media formats like OggVobis. Or open encryption standards. Nobody’s saying they will be used for anything illegal, but they could, if the climate turns too oppressive.

I think it is essential to share good information about what is going on, and what the alternative efforts are. Important to make the issues known, so that even non-techies know what they are. Anybody who buys a computer or a TV should know what DRM is and what the intention with it is, and what the alternatives are.

Here are a few informative sites from people who work on keeping technology open:

Freedom to Tinker 
Abusable Technologies Awareness Center
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Privacy Information Center
The Internet is for Everyone
Lawrence Lessig


Digital Lockdown: A Way Out

December 11th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

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.


Good News Tidbits Abound

January 23rd, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Good News Tidbits Abound)

Perhaps I am just in a good mood, but I’m seeing a lot positive news tidbits today:

Bush’s support is drying up faster than a prune in the Sahara. Nearly every country in the world stands firmly opposed to this war. The amount of people showing up at anti-war demonstrations is unprecedented. It took years of us being in Viet Nam before we had a similar showing. And we are not talking about fringe activists, hippies and leftist, but also multitudes of war veterans joining this swelling movement. Now there are even members in the top brass of our own military who are questioning Bush’s warmongering. My only concern, is that the Bush cabal will be backed into a corner, and through their desperation will respond in some drastic and devastating way. I’m not saying they will directly commit an act of terrorism against American citizens, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another terrorist attack that will shock the world (think nuclear). I deeply and sincerely hope I’m wrong about this. In the meantime San Francisco is the largest city yet to pass an anti USA PATRIOT Act resolution.

Hillary Rosen is stepping down at the end of this year. She also admitted that file-sharing will eventually supplant the music industry as we know it. I agree with her… something much better and more democratic will take its place.

Continued Growth of Mesh Networks – Locust World is offering a Linux Distribution that turns any Wi-Fi station into a mesh-network node. This is a fantastic development and accelerates the emergence of an ad-hoc decentralized internet consisting primarily of individual users. That means that telcos, backbone providers, and other centralized control centers will become increasingly obsolete.

Open Source Will Win – It may take a while, a long while, but its win is inevitable. For those of you who haven’t noticed, not a day goes by now, that a story doesn’t appear somewhere in the news about the growth of Linux. There are too many stories to reference here. But entire countries, and municipals are giving up Microsoft and other proprietary software for Linux. Its my prediction that by 2010, Linux and open-source software will be the most common and standard running software in every type of device from consumer electronics, to wireless, to desktop and enterprise applications. My prediction is M$ will still be around, but in a much smaller and more legacy role. People will still be able to charge for software, as long as its useful and timely, but open-source will be the dominant paradigm of the software universe.


Utopia or Oblivion

January 19th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Utopia or Oblivion)

A reader named Chris Hagglund wrote me and had this to say:

Dear Paul:

I was reading your weblog and I found your post from Jan 6 about building a good future for our children. My perspective on the future is from a technology standpoint — basically building the systems that will enable a global democratic society/societies and guaranteeing freedom and opportunities for our children. I know there are a lot of things that need to be done, one of which is to build a ubiquitous free wireless network. I also think that for the sake of our planet we should begin using hydrogen as an energy source sooner rather than later. What do you think about these things? How do you think we can best go about building the utopian future you envision?

Dear Chris,

It’s always nice to hear from people who share my visions and concerns. I believe like Bucky Fuller, that we stand at the precipice of utopia or oblivion, there is no third way. Technologies are becoming so powerful, that we will either destroy ourselves or establish a utopian paradise. Nanotechnology alone will not be able to co-exist with us for long, unless we as a species somehow figures it all out. I’m not sure what it’s going to take to tip the scale towards utopia, except a massive shift in the way people see the world and the choices they make.

Looking at things today, there are at least a few things I hold out promise for and see as necessary to move things in a more positive direction:

1) Open Spectrum – The coming about of a ubiquitous wireless network that is entirely decentralized, ad-hoc, and open. Both you and I already understand why having an unfettered, uncontrollable, open and free network of communication and connection is the surest way to have a free society. No matter how bad it could get otherwise, when people have the ability to communicate, organize and build community without fear, the powers that be loose their power ultimately. They know this, which is why emerging technologies like 802.11 and mesh networks, the politics of spectrum, and other battles to come are so important. Much hangs in the balance. It is my hope that no matter what they do, that these technologies will be so successful and sufficiently disruptive and decentralized that there will be nothing they *can* do. It bears mentioning that ubiquitous computing combined with advance socially enabling software will likely change the balance of power and capital as we know it. See my blog entries on Capital, Power and Ecology and From Global Economy to Global Village for my views on this.

2) Obsolescence of Oil – There is great promise in alternative energy sources. They will continue to get cheaper. As more people invest, the manufacturing costs will continue to go down which in turn encourages more investment. So I not only want us to wean ourselves from oil, I’m hoping it will simply loose out in the marketplace to cheaper alternatives. This will happen eventually as we are closely approaching Hubberts Peak. The shift to a solar-hydrogen economy has the added benefit of encouragaing invesetment in space migration. The politics of oil has been brutal, and unfortunately it looks like its about to get a lot worse. The sad part is that our dependence on oil is going to not only destabilize the world politic its probably going to create a whole new generation of terrorist that will plague us for many years to come. The saddest part of this isn’t so much the terrorism, as it will be societies inappropriate response to it – more oppression, less freedom – basically a society based on tyranny and suspicion rather than openness and trust. This is why its so crucial that we have open communications and the transparency it engenders. And it would help if our foreign policies didn’t sow the seeds of terrorism in the first place!

So the real question is, will the combination of free communications and cheaper alternatives to oil kick in fast enough to turn the tide? I’m not sure, but I remain hopeful.

So in answer to your question, what can we do today? Well, we can each do our part to spread the word about these liberating technologies, and for those of us who have the skill, build and deploy these technologies as fast as possible. I’m not an engineer, so I’m doing my part, in an otherwise insanely busy life, by publishing this blog and getting people excited about the possibilities – that it’s not too late. Since we only have two choices left – utopia or oblivion, lets start building utopia right now.


The P2P Endgame

January 7th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on The P2P Endgame)

I just read this on Lessig’s Blog:

As cable companies continue to increase the cost of broadband service, and as telcom monopolies are strengthened by changes in FCC policy, it is now absolutely clear what the broadband endgame will be in the US: wireless. Think of a city where every single street light is a node in a mesh (for an example, see meshnetworks), and thus where the cloud of the internet sits on the street like the fog in San Francisco. For almost nothing, cities could provide IP light, as cities provide street lights. Neutral, end-to-end, fast, and cheap.

Lets hope Lessig is right. I’m dubious. The telecoms will use their power to prevent local governments from installing free wireless, claiming it’s unfair competition, socialism, etc. Ironic isn’t it? It’s OK when the government protects them, but “socialism” or “anti-competitive” when it protects us. It has become obvious to me that the telecoms, with their dying business model, are pulling out all the reguatory stops to maintain their monopolies, even if it means stopping the promise of an open wireless era from ever happening. Imagine if special interests in the early 20th century were successful in stopping the automobile. Lets hope FCC Chairman Michael Powell, in deregulating telecom to the monopolies advantage, applies the same philosophical de-licensing of more spectrum. That will be the day, no, seriously. If you believe the U.S. has ever had anything close to a free-market, I have some freedom fries to sell you. Just look at these telecom deals as collusion-as-usual between big government and big business. And its going to get worse before it gets better. Lets not forget, it was the crown-granted monopoly given to the East-Indian Dutch Trading Company that ultimately led to the American Revolution.

The Endgame (as I see it):

Until the ever evolving tinkering going on by smart people makes the world a better place, the corporations will work day and night to control the government and use it to keep the rest of us in line, through torture and violence if necessary. This means no due process, no checks and balances, death by decree. This may seem like bad news, but there is a silver lining to all of this. They are desperate. People do not take kindly to such brutal repression. Those in charge may think they are winning the game, but they are loosing the playing field. They are grabbing things from their last bag of tricks.

“The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers”, Princess Leia, Star Wars.

For a moment, imagine you were in their shoes. If you were truly secure in your power, would you resort to ever more desperate measures to hold onto it? Think about it. Since it is the system at large, the growing and evolving world that has become the threat, ever more desperate (and futile) means will be made by those in power to stop it. We are likely to see an acceleration of new draconian “laws” and measures passed against the will of the populace or passed in the darkness of night. You can forget about the Constitution. They will own the government, the airwaves and the press. They will lie with impunity. They will do absolutely everything in their power to maintain and grow that power at all cost. Witness the increasing number of “back room” deals already happening between big industry insiders and the government agencies charged with “regulating them”. This is called Regulatory Capture and it is in full swing. There will soon come a turning point, probably sometime in the next 10 years or so, when most people will see the jig is up, the game is rigged and the fix is in. They will realize they’ve been duped and they will either be really pissed off or see it as a tremendous opportunity to start turning things around.

Just to be clear, between now and then, this new corporate elite will use the strong arm of their illegitimate “laws” to maintain their ongoing theft of humanity. As long you depend on them you will feel the pain of this betrayal. The solution will require you to break free of them completely. The big question is this: will the P2P genie now out of the bottle, successful facilitate a global-wide shift in power away from centralized players to everyone else? I believe the answer is yes. I believe this is the question and struggle of our age and we will be remembered for the decisions we make today.

That is the reason why they are trying to stop P2P and other liberating technologies, not for any bullshit reasons like intellectual property, economic growth or national security. They want to stop p2p, because it’s the very thing that will end their monopoly on power forever. Since the transition to these new technologies is inevitable short of total species annihilation, the question is how to transition to this new era as peacefully and harmoniously as possible? Most of us discussing these issues know the answer – trust in the power of the common man, woman, and child. Know that overwhelmingly most people want to do good. Far more harm has come from “leaders” than from anyone else. Most people everywhere want peace, that is the future that beckons us. P2P brings the power to all the people, making it damn near impossible for there to be a monopolization of power ever again. From that time forward things like personal reputation and integrity will matter far more than money and power does today.

Feudalism, and in this case neofeudalism, which they are so desperately trying to impliment, is a dead-end for humanity, and I mean dead end. Without a free and open economy and culture, advances will stop, and we loose our adaptability in the fitness landscape, and thus our survival advantage in the face of the critical challenges that lie ahead. In my very strong opinion, this issue of centralized versus decentralized power is the existential issue of our time. That is why I blog about decentralization and P2P so much, and why it’s so critical we win this. I believe we can, because it is humanity itself, all of us that are fighting for our survival.


Free High-Speed Anonymous Internet?

November 20th, 2002 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Free High-Speed Anonymous Internet?)

There are a lot of developments coming our way that could bring back the free wheeling days of the internet before it became completely commercialized and monitored by governments. Technologies like Mesh Networks and high-speed 802.11g wireless gear, now available from Linksys, which will speed up wireless access to 54Mps and still be compatible with existing 802.11b networks. Combine this with cheap wireless devices, anarchistic p2p networks like Freenet and even anonymous e-cash, and who knows what will happen next. But like the internet in 1994, I couldn’t see how it could ever be controlled, yet 8 years later we have a network that is becoming increasingly closed, censored, monitored and proprietary. Currently, I am unable to see how they could bring decentralized wireless networks under control either, so who is to say? This time, I’m really hoping the genie stays out of the bottle.


Wireless Tidbits from around the Globe

November 4th, 2002 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Wireless Tidbits from around the Globe)

Wow, Monday morning and already there are plenty of exciting tidbits in the news. The first community based wireless mesh-network is up and running near Devon, UK. You can read about it here. As you may already know, mesh-networks are a disruptive technology because each device acts as a router for all other devices, eliminating the need for a centralized network.

In a recent speech FCC Chairman Michael Powell questioned the FCC’s assumption that spectrum is always scarce, suggesting software-defined radio’s and other new technologies should be allowed to operate on frequencies that are currently un-used or under-used. The speech doesn’t represent any policy changes at the FCC, but these initiatives could open enormous amounts of frequency that could be used for all manner of wireless devices (read: massive mesh-networks!).

An article in the New York Times this morning talks about a startup company in CA that says it will announce WiFi antenna technology today that can give a 2000 ft. range indoors (and up to 4 mi. outdoors). This would be awesome if they really deliver – because with greater range means more robustness and coverage of ad-hoc wireless mesh-networks, further speeding free communications away from centralized power borkers into the common user.

UPDATE: As of March, 2012, almost 10 years later, none of these technologies have never made it the public. The internet is more monopolized, centralized and controlled than ever. To my knowledge there are are no long-range wireless “mesh” technologies available to the general public.


From Global Economy to Global Commons

November 3rd, 2002 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on From Global Economy to Global Commons)

In Capital, Power and Ecology I suggested that “ecological” constraints are inherent in a global economy, and how capital along with information wants to be free.. So far the free flow of capital and information seems to be winning, but can it can survive the current onslaught of corruption (crony capitalism) and criminality long enough to see us out of global war and irreversible ecological disaster. In other words can we have free-markets without “capitalism” and environmental destruction? I believe the answer is yes.

In the meantime there are many other developments on the technological front that hold promise for democratizing prosperity, free enterprise, and fostering greater degrees of participatory freedom than ever seen before. Tools like reputation systems and p2p adhoc wireless mesh-networks are so disruptive in their potential its hard to predict what their effect will be, but they are sure to change society as radically as the internet itself – I would say much more so. For starters, adhoc wireless smart mobs will greater power over where capital flows. Companies like World Com and Enron who refuse to open their books and become more transparent will be much less likely to attract capital and investment than those companies that do. Therefore the drive of companies is to become increasing transparent and accountable to their “stakeholders” who in turn have the ability to move their capital around with the simple push of a button. This represents and eminent power shift away from centrally controlled hierarchies to bottom-up grass-roots capital structures. The future of economic wealth creation will come from the bottom-up not the top-down.

Then we have the current tyranny of the content industry as embodied by the RIAA and MPAA and other outdated business models built on artificial scarcity. At the moment, the media giants seem to be winning with draconian legislation ike the DMCA as part of their arsenal. But don’t loose hope.  What we are seeing are old modes of capital and collusion being increasingly threatened by more liquid, networked and liberated economies of scale and zero duplication cost of the internet. Regardless of the legislative and technological restrictions implemented in the US, their are other countries who are not as keen to follow in the same footsteps.

China, not normally a bastion of freedom and democracy, is adopting open-source software at a blinding pace despite Microsoft’s best efforts to shove their bloated, expensive and restrictive licensing schemes down their throats. And while AMD and Intel build in digital restrictions into their processors, China has started its own processor initiative called ‘Dragon’. Kind of ironic that a nation know for its gross human rights abuses could potentially be a bastion of digital liberty. China is not pursuing this path because of their freedom loving nature, but to increase their economic independence and capital liquidity. It just happens that increasing capital requires a corresponding increase in liberty if its to become sustainable. If China develops their own microprocessor and uses free open-source software, they are beholden to no one for their capitalization, especially the “imperialistic” US. So while the US chokes on expensive and restrictive digital lock-downs, China could enjoy a more open platform. So in the global economy where do you think the capital will go? If the US hopes to compete in the global marketplace, its either going to have to loosen its digital restrictions or loose its place as the economic super-power. So the question is can the US continue as an economic superpower without bankrupting itself through global imperialism and domestic tyranny?  Not if it continues to offshore it’s manufacturing base, while allowing banks to extract more capital from the real productive” economy and then tying it up in useless and wasteful financial instruments that do absolutely nothing for the real economy, other than make a bunch of useless bankers rich for robbing us blind.