[Exclusive] Can Hackers Create a SOPA-Proof Internet?By: Drew Bowling - January 4, 2012
What’s the shortest distance between two points? If you said a straight line, then you just earned a self-high five.
We here at WebProNews we have already given you a guide on how to navigate the post-SOPA Internet, but suppose there was an alternative that would obviate any need to even deal with an Internet burdened with the bureaucratic cangue of the United States government. In other words, what if you could use a different Internet altogether?
What if there were two Internets? Is freedom of speech and access to information important enough to you that you’d hop aboard a user-created and -controlled Internet? Does SOPA scare you that much? Let us know in the comments below.
If one is to ever exist, the architects of that straight line to Internet freedom will be Hackerspace Global Grid, a cabal of hackers that have taken up the cause of creating a satellite-based communication network that would be capable of establishing an “uncensorable” Internet. It’s just one of the many goals of their ambitious project to pioneer a global grass-roots space program. Think of it as an open-source outer space mission.
It all started in August at the Chaos Community Camp when Nick Farr issued a call to hackers to begin planning to build an Internet that couldn’t be censored by any government, citing the possibility of a SOPA’ed Internet as to why hackers – and everybody, really – should have an Internet unencumbered by censorship. HGG responded with the proposal of creating a satellite-based network capable of “defense against terrestrial censorship of the Internet.”
While HGG states that an alternate Internet incapable of being censored is one possible utilization of such an ambitious project, it’s just one of the many uses from a distributed satellite ground-station network. Essentially, it’s a communication network that puts an emphasis on an open-source community of technology development. While there are numerous goals with undertaking this satellite-for-hackers project, the first goal of Farr’s is to establish a resistance against Internet censorship. “The first goal is an uncensorable Internet in Space,” Farr told BBC. “Let’s take the Internet out of the control of terrestrial entities.”
So how will this ambitious goal of hacking outer space pan out? Two members of the HGG team, hadez and Andreas Hornig, spoke with WebProNews about how this mission developed and where it will go. As mentioned above, this call to arms is “a direct answer to Nick Farr, Lars Weiler, and Jens Ohlig’s call for a ‘Hacker Space Program,” said hadez.
Hornig, who is actually more of an engineer than card-carrying hacker, adds, “Members of our two groups, shackspace and Constellation (me), came together and joined efforts. For my side I had an idea about a distributed ground-station network for my group and my university. I asked in HAM radio boards for help and a shackspace member found me and invited me to the shackspace, because I’m in their proximity. Because both groups share a lot of goals and we knew the project’s tasks are very challenging, we joined forces and combined our objectives and technical goals.”
And speaking of that collaborative effort required to succeed on far-reaching projects, some readers out there might be wondering how on earth (oh, the pun) can a group of private individuals possibly hope to finance a mission to essentially colonize space? Hornig and hadez welcome any contributions to HGG’s cause since, as you can imagine, this is going to eventually tally up a pricey bill. “We’re open for any support because this project is ambitious,” Hornig said. hadez estimates that the group is “still below 500 EUR in total at this point largely thanks to the fact that there’s a lot of infrastructure present at thelocal hackerspace ‘shackspace’ in Stuttgart, Germany which we can use.” While that’s a good start, the pair admits, “There will be a point where a more significant investment will have to be made, especially once we’re going to build more than a few initial ground stations. We have not yet made any decision whether to ask for funding or who to ask.”
Both members of HGG are adamant about maintaining the focus of the project on keeping the system open to both users and contributors while not compromising the goal with monetary contributions. hadez explains, “The core objective is building a fully open system (hardware, software, documentation) and keeping it that way. Funding which does not interfere with this goal and leaves us the same freedom we have currently would be a possibility.” Hornig emphasized the importance of the open-source aspect, saying, “We will rely on volunteers all over the world forming our global sensor and station grid (via Constellation) and higher costs for the hardware will result in less volunteers.”
Everybody got this? Not only will everybody have Internet freedom but it’s going to be coming from space. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure, Future Edition. But before everybody gets ahead of themselves there, lets make sure everybody’s on the same page: this communication system isn’t going to support the bandwidth you’d need to stream the final season of Arrested Development in HD. The FAQ from HGG explains:
If you’re in desperate need to communicate you do not care about watching videos on YouTube nor do you want to download the latest album of your favorite band to have the perfect soundtrack for whatever the hell you’re doing. You want to get a message out and receive updates. You want to inform and stay informed yourself. A first step will be providing bare-minimum communication infrastructure for that moment of feaco-rotary intersection that will hopefully never happen. But it did happen, several times during 2011 alone in several places. It will happen again.
Think twitter updates, not video streaming.
While the Internet capability is one of HGG’s many goals, Hornig points out that their broader mission is to create a “fusion” between science and society. “The sensor grid allows us to do research in various fields and communication could also be possible as a side effect,” he said. “Especially in aerospace a lot of people think, ‘What is it good for?’ and they forget that they use space technology all the time, like satellite navigation in their cars and cell-phones, weather forecasts and HD-channels via satellite-TV. But they just use it, they are not an essential part. In HGG they can be part and, even more important, they are relevant for the system in general.”
At any rate, HGG doesn’t want to rule out “high-bandwidth links and geo-stationary community controlled satellites” in the future, but for now this would be an incredible gift to society. And before any of you start feeling deflated about this limitation: stop. Allay any of your first-world disappointments because this is a bigger deal than some people may appreciate. Recall when Egypt’s government “turned off” the Internet last January or when Syria tried to suppress users of iPhones or even China’s Great Firewall – all of these obstacles could potentially be circumvented by HGG’s project. And even here in the United States where a Congressional gerontocracy would limit the expression of speech and access to information via SOPA or PIPA, how far behind is the spectre of a total shutdown of the Internet?
That possibility is a big If (hopefully), but if it becomes a real possibility, people like HGG will be your new best friends.
So, do you think it’ll work? I know it sounds like The Future, but can individual hackers and scientists work together to really create a sustainable communication network that would support an alternate Internet? How do you think private industries would respond to such a bold endeavor? Let us know in the comments below