#Edgeryders – Hacking for change

I wrote the piece below for the “Hacking for Change” mission on Edgeryders, here’s the “mission brief”:

2011 was the year people across the world took to the streets, and the Internet, to try to change political systems they were unable to affect through the the “normal” channels of their respective countries, be they “democracies” or “dictatorships”. From the Arab Spring to the Indignados of Europe and the Occupy movements of the US and elsewhere, people of all ages, completely disillusioned with traditional politics, began to take their collective futures into their own hands through direct action, decentralised methodologies influenced in part by the free software movements, and hacking. Some of them actually hack: they develop and deploy technologies to enable dissenting citizens to communicate and mobiize on the issues they care about.
We’re creating situations that are impossible for governments to ignore, both in the street and online, but while some of those in power are taking note and trying to engage, traditional politics is responding in a traditional way, discrediting activists and looking for ways to block these movements and methods. Are you going to be on the sidelines dealing with the results or going to join in & hack the street?
Investigate and report about a hacktivist project. What problem is it tryng to solve? Do you think it is making a contribution? Why?
Some examples of projects which could be described as hacktivist are:
ChokePoint Project is a global censorship monitoring platform based on reliable data, visualised in a very accessible manner and featuring contextual information for each country. It will show up to date information for censorship circumvention and the legal implications involved.
GlobaLeaks is the first open-source whistleblowing framework. It empowers anyone to easily set up and maintain a whistleblowing platform. GlobaLeaks can help many different types of users: media organizations, activist groups, corporations and public agencies.
Tor is free software and an open network that helps you defend against a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security known as traffic analysis
Telecomix is a cluster of internet and data loving bots and people, always striving to protect and improve the internet and defend the free flow of data. Telecomix, just like the Internet, knows no borders technological or territorial.
I’m Getting Arrested is an app to alert your lawyer, loved ones, etc … that you are being arrested with a click.
Sukey – Is an app to keep demonstrators safe, mobile & informed
Like all missions, this one is worth 250 reputation, but extra points are awarded for great content. Start now! Or get the bigger picture on We, the people.
Big big thanks to Cataspanglish for his invaluable help with this mission!

2011 was the year people across the world took to the streets, and the Internet, to try to change political systems they were unable to affect through the the “normal” channels of their respective countries, be they “democracies” or “dictatorships”. From the Arab Spring to the Indignados of Europe and the Occupy movements of the US and elsewhere, people of all ages, completely disillusioned with traditional politics, began to take their collective futures into their own hands through direct action, decentralised methodologies influenced in part by the free software movements, and hacking. Some of them actually hack: they develop and deploy technologies to enable dissenting citizens to communicate and mobiize on the issues they care about.

We’re creating situations that are impossible for governments to ignore, both in the street and online, but while some of those in power are taking note and trying to engage, traditional politics is responding in a traditional way, discrediting activists and looking for ways to block these movements and methods. Are you going to be on the sidelines dealing with the results or going to join in & hack the street?

Investigate and report about a hacktivist project. What problem is it tryng to solve? Do you think it is making a contribution? Why?

Some examples of projects which could be described as hacktivist are:

ChokePoint Project is a global censorship monitoring platform based on reliable data, visualised in a very accessible manner and featuring contextual information for each country. It will show up to date information for censorship circumvention and the legal implications involved.

GlobaLeaks is the first open-source whistleblowing framework. It empowers anyone to easily set up and maintain a whistleblowing platform. GlobaLeaks can help many different types of users: media organizations, activist groups, corporations and public agencies.

Tor is free software and an open network that helps you defend against a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security known as traffic analysis

Telecomix is a cluster of internet and data loving bots and people, always striving to protect and improve the internet and defend the free flow of data. Telecomix, just like the Internet, knows no borders technological or territorial.

I’m Getting Arrested is an app to alert your lawyer, loved ones, etc … that you are being arrested with a click.

Sukey – Is an app to keep demonstrators safe, mobile & informed

Like all missions, this one is worth 250 reputation, but extra points are awarded for great content. Start now! Or get the bigger picture on We, the people.

Big big thanks to Cataspanglish for his invaluable help with this mission!

HACKING FOR CHANGE: CHOKEPOINT PROJECT – WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?

February 6 2012

During the uprising in Egypt, in January 2011, the order was given to “turn off” the Internet, sending shock-waves around the world. Murmurs were heard of US security agencies and American politicians asking for access to a similar kill switch.

Since then Internet access has been manipulated in many other countries where citizens have sought to bring down regimes, while in other places there are ongoing restrictions to free Internet access, despite this access being declared a fundamental human right by the United Nations.

These actions force us to look at who owns The Internet?

The ChokePoint project is a response to the Arab Spring uprising where a group of us wanted to take action and do something useful. The project is made of 2 parts, one being a near real-time internet censorship monitoring platform. This includes a data collection part and a visualization element which is a public facing site. We will be able to monitor whether connections have been cut in specific regions of countries, helping alert journalists and activists. The platform will be based on reliable data, visualized in a very accesible manner, featuring contextual information for each country. This system could also help in natural disaster situations by detecting the extent of damage done. See a prototype here: http://euhackathon.chokepointproject.net/

At the same time we are developing an educational project to inform politicians, NGO’s, journalists, researchers, students and other interested parties about the realities of how the Internet works, including its underlying structures, through workshop modules aimed at the non-geek and focussed on participation.

When we began the project, we didn’t know the real scope of what we were trying to achieve, but it quickly became apparent that we didn’t have the skills needed to carry it out.  We reached out through our networks and were lucky to find some very talented, very committed people and gained some buzz by winning the Next Idea category at Ars Electronica.

Some of the team came together at the Chaos Communication Camp in August to work on the system architecture and subject it to the scrutiny of people from around the world working on similar projects. The architecture is vital in this project because it is necessary to get real data from users worldwide, often in hostile environments and without compromising their security.  Again the network responded and we made some very important contacts. Since then we’ve been working on the dataviz as well as doing outreach with politicians, hackers, journalists, bloggers, organisations, rights groups and anyone else with an interest. The prototype platform was developed at the the first EU Hackathon at the EU parliament in Brussels in November, and we’ve done workshops & presentations and attended many events. Oh yes, and started to work on fund-raising as we’ve been doing this in our “spare time” up until now.

Ironically, I’m not a “hacker” at all, if by hacking we’re talking about technical skills. But I do have a JFDI (Just F***ing Do It) mentality which I guess is similar to hacking. The situation now is probably worse than when we began the project so doubtless the knowledge aquired and contacts made so far will be even more useful in the future.

Release time!

Well, we’ve been pretty quiet around this blog what with moving to Berlin and all. However we have been pretty busy behind the scenes, with Ana continuing to push the boundaries of governmental social media use and I’ve been mainly occupied with the ChokePoint Project. So I’m proud to show something at last from what I’ve been up to (cross-posted from CPP):

Finally, a release!

Above is a screenshot of our first, very beta release of euhackathon.chokepointproject.net

It was put together for the 1st EUhackathon held in Brussels on November 8th & 9th 2011. It’s a prototype, a proof of concept. Here’s the ‘About’ from the release site:

What we did:

We built this test version of a planned larger platform using broadband statistics provided by Measurement Lab (M-Lab) and the Transparency Reports published by Google. The former contains continuous information about the Internet speed at various locations in the world. By analyzing this data, we can estimate the Internet connectivity status for the countries and cities covered by the data.

Our main aim has been working to build a platform to give people a tool to know what’s happening in their country now and over the historical period, augmented with information on law and lobbying activities. We created a branch of our application for the hackathon and this is the result of 1,5 days work.

Some use of dummy data:

The landing page of this example app is displaying dummy data for the current incidents listed under the map. It’s there to give you an idea of what this application could become. Obviously getting radar jamming data is a completely different from monitoring internet traffic.

We need more data:

If you know of relevant data sets either historical or dynamic that you think would benefit this project, please let us know. Real-time, yes, we know that will kinda of important, don’t you think?

Team for the hackday: Chris Pinchen, Ruben Bloemgarten, James Burke, Simon Funke, Florian Rathgeber, Javier Arturo Rodríguez

Release notes

This release has two objectives: to visualise the M-Lab & Google Transparency data and to show what we are working towards with the ChokePoint Project.

Drilling down

On opening euhackathon.chokepointproject.net the visitor will see the map with clickable red “incident” indicators, a link to info about the country they are viewing from, and dummy data for the current incidents listed under the map (see the image above). Clicking on the “What’s the state of the Internet in (viewers country)?” or the red indicators on the map will open a page for that place.

The page by default opens with the Transparency data visible. Clicking the pointer next to each incident will reveal more information about that incident.  Clicking on the pointer next to the Connectivy Status category will open  a drop down where the M-Lab data can be explored.

TransEuropExpress

I’ve been riding trains around Europa since August and the last couple of weeks have seen visits to Amsterdam to prepare the ChokePoint Project workshop at Impakt Festival in Utrecht, followed by the workshop itself, before going to Brussels to participate in the 1st EUhackathon for transparency at the EU Parliament. On Thursday I’ll be heading back to Catalunya to present ChokePoint Project at Nits Digitals 11 in Vic, so will hopefully see lots of peeps there.

Oh yes, in the meantime we moved. From Luxembourg to Berlin. By train of course.

ChokePoint Project selected as 2011 winner of [the next idea] of Prix Ars Electronica

 

cppars

 

Very happy to announce that the Choke Point Project has been selected as 2011 winner of [the next idea] voestalpine Art and Technology Grant as part of the Prix Ars Electronica 2011.

Here’s what the Ars Electronica post says about the project:

“As an upshot of recent revolts in the Arab world, the Choke Point Project raises the question of who actually exercises control over the internet. The WWW is generally perceived as a decentralized medium, and many people hold the opinion that it can be used as a means of  communication beyond the reach of power relationships and unimpeded by authoritarian structures. Recent events, however, reveal that this view doesn’t correspond to reality at all. Rather, individual politicians are able to cut off internet access on the part of an entire nation. The declared aim of this project initiated by the P2P Foundation is to locate nodes of the internet and to demonstrate how simple it is to prevent large segments of the populace from getting online. But this project is much more than the visualization of a “map of the Web”; it also collects strategies and opportunities to evade just such weak spots in order to free th internet from the clutches of power structures and turn over control to the individual.”

The prize consists of a 3 month residency in the Ars Electronica Center and a cash stipend in the amount of €7,500.

In the meantime James & yours truly are have been putting together the team, looking for funding and learning tons of stuff. We'll be having the first meeting of most of the team on June 16th in Amsterdam, just realised it's 25 years since I last went there!

ChokePoint Project – towards a distributed internet infrastructure

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Right now, I'm mainly spending my time on doing stuff for the P2P Foundation – one of the main things being coordinating the ChokePoint Project along with James Burke.

Here's the video presentation of the project, along with the transcription.

 

Chokepoint project introduction from Choke Point Project on Vimeo.

 

Video transcription:


On Janurary 27th, 2011, the order was given to “turn off” the Internet in Egypt, limiting communications and voiding commerce conducted online. Egyptian Internet services resumed on February 2nd. Fastforward just a few weeks later, this time Libya commences its disconnect February 18th, with a blackout occurring March 4th.

Shutting down the Internet in two countries sent shock-waves across the world. We also  heard people like American Senator Liberman asking for access to a similar kill switch. These actions force us all to ask ‘Who owns The Internet?” and what are the implications of the said controls over connectivity and scenarios for their use?

If you believe the Internet is not something that can or should be soley controlled by politicians or people inside the higher echelons of nation states, resulting in situations like Egypt and Libya, we’d love to tell you about what we are building.

The Choke Point Project addresses the events of recent months with the clear aim of mapping nodes of Internet connectivity and who maintains their control and what this may mean. We believe there is the need for a more decentralized Internet beyond the complete control of nation states and corporate influence.

So let me tell you a little bit about us? The Choke Point Project team are members of the Peer to Peer Foundation, and some of our friends, comprised of web researchers, software developers and data visualization experts.

So some of the projects aims are:

to gather data from across the web to show control points,

and clearly explain the complex issues involved including the history of who owns the Internet, the current legal situation, and where are identified choke points, and possible strategies for decentralization, reasons for and against kill switches.

The Choke Point Project site will function as a living record of Internet ownership and control, documenting the key areas from domain name registration to traffic gates

We will use the site to:

– create an interactive data visualization to identify choke points, showing vulnerabilities

– document the related open projects and point to articles with analysis and strategy

– release datasets and tools used to track down Internet choke points.