Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

This is the introduction from the new book Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet (2012), based on discussions Julian Assange had earlier this year with fellow hackers Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn and Jérémie Zimmermann.

“This book is not a manifesto. There is not time for that. This book is a warning.

The world is not sliding, but galloping into a new transnational dystopia. This development has not been properly recognized outside of national security circles. It has been hidden by secrecy, complexity and scale. The internet, our greatest tool of emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen. The internet is a threat to human civilization.

These transformations have come about silently, because those who know what is going on work in the global surveillance industry and have no incentives to speak out. Left to its own trajectory, within a few years, global civilization will be a postmodern surveillance dystopia, from which escape for all but the most skilled individuals will be impossible. In fact, we may already be there.

While many writers have considered what the internet means for global civilization, they are wrong. They are wrong because they do not have the sense of perspective that direct experience brings. They are wrong because they have never met the enemy.

No description of the world survives first contact with the enemy.

We have met the enemy.

Over the last six years WikiLeaks has had conflicts with nearly every powerful state. We know the new surveillance state from an insider’s perspective, because we have plumbed its secrets. We know it from a combatant’s perspective, because we have had to protect our people, our finances and our sources from it. We know it from a global perspective, because we have people, assets and information in nearly every country. We know it from the perspective of time, because we have been fighting this phenomenon for years and have seen it double and spread, again and again. It is an invasive parasite, growing fat off societies that merge with the internet. It is rolling over the planet, infecting all states and peoples before it.

What is to be done?

Once upon a time in a place that was neither here nor there, we, the constructors and citizens of the young internet discussed the future of our new world.

We saw that the relationships between all people would be mediated by our new world, and that the nature of states, which are defined by how people exchange information, economic value, and force, would also change.

We saw that the merger between existing state structures and the internet created an opening to change the nature of states.

First, recall that states are systems through which coercive force flows. Factions within a state may compete for support, leading to democratic surface phenomena, but the underpinnings of states are the systematic application, and avoidance, of violence. Land ownership, property, rents, dividends, taxation, court fines, censorship, copyrights and trademarks are all enforced by the threatened application of state violence.

Most of the time we are not even aware of how close to violence we are, because we all grant concessions to avoid it. Like sailors smelling the breeze, we rarely contemplate how our surface world is propped up from below by darkness.

In the new space of the internet what would be the mediator of coercive force?

Does it even make sense to ask this question? In this otherworldly space, this seemingly platonic realm of ideas and information flow, could there be a notion of coercive force? A force that could modify historical records, tap phones, separate people, transform complexity into rubble, and erect walls, like an occupying army?

The platonic nature of the internet, ideas and information flows, is debased by its physical origins. Its foundations are fiber optic cable lines stretching across the ocean floors, satellites spinning above our heads, computer servers housed in buildings in cities from New York to Nairobi. Like the soldier who slew Archimedes with a mere sword, so too could an armed militia take control of the peak development of Western civilization, our platonic realm.

The new world of the internet, abstracted from the old world of brute atoms, longed for independence. But states and their friends moved to control our new world — by controlling its physical underpinnings. The state, like an army around an oil well, or a customs agent extracting bribes at the border, would soon learn to leverage its control of physical space to gain control over our platonic realm. It would prevent the independence we had dreamed of, and then, squatting on fiber optic lines and around satellite ground stations, it would go on to mass intercept the information flow of our new world — its very essence even as every human, economic, and political relationship embraced it. The state would leech into the veins and arteries of our new societies, gobbling up every relationship expressed or communicated, every web page read, every message sent and every thought googled, and then store this knowledge, billions of interceptions a day, undreamed of power, in vast top secret warehouses, forever. It would go on to mine and mine again this treasure, the collective private intellectual output of humanity, with ever more sophisticated search and pattern finding algorithms, enriching the treasure and maximizing the power imbalance between interceptors and the world of interceptees. And then the state would reflect what it had learned back into the physical world, to start wars, to target drones, to manipulate UN committees and trade deals, and to do favors for its vast connected network of industries, insiders and cronies.

But we discovered something. Our one hope against total domination. A hope that with courage, insight and solidarity we could use to resist. A strange property of the physical universe that we live in.

The universe believes in encryption.

It is easier to encrypt information than it is to decrypt it.

We saw we could use this strange property to create the laws of a new world. To abstract away our new platonic realm from its base underpinnings of satellites, undersea cables and their controllers. To fortify our space behind a cryptographic veil. To create new lands barred to those who control physical reality, because to follow us into them would require infinite resources.

And in this manner to declare independence.

Scientists in the Manhattan Project discovered that the universe permitted the construction of a nuclear bomb. This was not an obvious conclusion. Perhaps nuclear weapons were not within the laws of physics. However, the universe believes in atomic bombs and nuclear reactors. They are a phenomenon the universe blesses, like salt, sea or stars.

Similarly, the universe, our physical universe, has that property that makes it possible for an individual or a group of individuals to reliably, automatically, even without knowing, encipher something, so that all the resources and all the political will of the strongest superpower on earth may not decipher it. And the paths of encipherment between people can mesh together to create regions free from the coercive force of the outer state. Free from mass interception. Free from state control.

In this way, people can oppose their will to that of a fully mobilized superpower and win. Encryption is an embodiment of the laws of physics, and it does not listen to the bluster of states, even transnational surveillance dystopias.

It isn’t obvious that the world had to work this way. But somehow the universe smiles on encryption.

Cryptography is the ultimate form of non-violent direct action. While nuclear weapons states can exert unlimited violence over even millions of individuals, strong cryptography means that a state, even by exercising unlimited violence, cannot violate the intent of individuals to keep secrets from them.

Strong cryptography can resist an unlimited application of violence. No amount of coercive force will ever solve a math problem.

But could we take this strange fact about the world and build it up to be a basic emancipatory building block for the independence of mankind in the platonic realm of the internet? And as societies merged with the internet could that liberty then be reflected back into physical reality to redefine the state?

Recall that states are the systems which determine where and how coercive force is consistently applied.

The question of how much coercive force can seep into the platonic realm of the internet from the physical world is answered by cryptography and the cypherpunks’ ideals.

As states merge with the internet and the future of our civilization becomes the future of the internet, we must redefine force relations.

If we do not, the universality of the internet will merge global humanity into one giant grid of mass surveillance and mass control.

We must raise an alarm. This book is a watchman’s shout in the night.

On March 20, 2012, while under house arrest in the United Kingdom awaiting extradition, I met with three friends and fellow watchmen on the principle that perhaps in unison our voices can wake up the town. We must communicate what we have learned while there is still a chance for you, the reader, to understand and act on what is happening.

It is time to take up the arms of our new world, to fight for ourselves and for those we love.

Our task is to secure self-determination where we can, to hold back the coming dystopia where we cannot, and if all else fails, to accelerate its self-destruction.

— Julian Assange, London, October 2012”

How to take up the challenge, then? One way to start is to organise a CryptoParty. We need to bring cryptography into the mainstream.

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Anthropologist and social theorist David Graeber considers in this talk the question why the kind of grandiose technological visions of the future that we used to have in the 1950s and 60s have disappeared, and why it’s now indeed difficult to imagine a better future at all. He argues that this has to do with the replacement of what he calls poetic technologies with bureaucratic technologies, that is the replacement of technologies that could lead to radical social changes with technologies that are designed to prevent those very changes. The talk was held at the School of Visual Arts in New York City on January 19,  2012.

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Michel Bauwens from The Foundation for P2P Alternatives discusses in this keynote speech the current proliferation of peer production practices and peer-to-peer culture that he dubs the “third revolution in human productivity” (the first two being the inventions of slavery and capitalism), in which intrinsic motivation replaces extrinsic motivation as the driver of production for the individual. He also discusses the implications of this shift to the notions of property and governance. The speech was held at the IT-University in Copenhagen on September 22, 2011.

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This is a keynote speech by researcher, engineer and thinker Vinay Gupta held at Camp Pixelache in Helsinki last Friday. In it, Gupta uses projects he’s been personally involved with, such as the hexayurt and STAR-TIDES to show how peer production principles can be used to solve crises from the level of the individual up to the global level. He also discusses game theory and how cooperative networks are beginning to outcompete states and large corporations.

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Interesting musings here by David A. Banks on the use of technology within the Occupy movement. The essay was originally published on the Cyborgology blog at The Society Pages.

“Most of our interactions with technology are rather mundane. We flip a light switch, buckle our seat belts, or place a phone call. We have a tacit knowledge of how these devices work. In other words, we have relatively standard, institutionalized, ways of interacting with familiar technologies. For example: if I were to drive someone else’s car, even if it is an unfamiliar model, I do not immediately consult the user manual. I look around for the familiar controls, maybe flick the blinkers on while the car is still in the drive way, and off I go. Removal of these technologies (or even significant alterations) can cause confusion. This is immediately evident if you are trying to meet a friend who does not own a cell phone. Typical conventions for finding the person in a crowded public space (“Yeah, I’m here. Near the stage? Yeah I see you waving.”) are not available to you. In years prior to widespread cell phone adoption, you might have made more detailed plans before heading out (“We’ll meet by the stage at 11PM.”) but now we work out the details on the fly. Operating cars and using cell phones are just a few mundane examples of how technologies shape social behavior beyond the actions needed to operate and maintain them. The widespread adoption of technologies, and the decisions by individual groups to utilize technologies can have a profound impact on the social order of communities. This second part of the Tactical Survey will help academics, activists, and activist academics assess the roll of information technology in a movement and make better decisions on when and how to use tools like social media, live video, and other forms of computer-mediated communication.

“The Master’s Tools” or, The Apparent Hypocrisy of Apple Computers in Zuccotti Park

Skeptical journalists and talking heads were quick to point out an apparent hypocrisy within the Occupy Wall Street movement. How can these hippies protest corporations when they are using Apple computers? The earliest of these pronouncements came from a New York Times piece that ended with:

‘One day, a trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Adam Sarzen, a decade or so older than many of the protesters, came to Zuccotti Park seemingly just to shake his head. “Look at these kids, sitting here with their Apple computers,” he said. “Apple, one of the biggest monopolies in the world. It trades at $400 a share. Do they even know that?”’

These sorts of observations are usually left unchallenged. Eric Randall, writing in The Atlantic, noticed this trend and wrote:

‘Depicting protestors sitting on their MacBooks fits in with the broader narrative the media has settled on, one that depicts a disorganized group of well-educated college grads who can’t figure out how to stay on message. The MacBook seems always to be used as a sort of tongue-in-cheek “stuff white people like” condemnation of the jobless, disenfranchised protestors who can somehow swing a $1,300 computer.’

This is nothing new. Ever since the “Battle for Seattle” Western news outlets have used this particular narrative to discredit activists and reasserts the legitimacy of status quo consumerism. Sociologist Richard J.F. Day comments on this rhetorical device in his book Gramsci is Dead: “This is an extremely common trope of exclusion by inclusion, which works by trying to show that They (anarchist activists) are no less tainted with the stain of capitalist individualism than We (good capitalist citizens) are, and therefore have no right to criticize the status quo.”

Members of OWS have responded to these sorts of accusations, but (predictably) little has changed. Randall quotes the occupywallst.org blog‘s response:

‘This is a specious argument, that if taken to its conclusion would preclude the use of any product to those angered by the injustice of its producer. If you disagree with the policy of GE’s board, you cannot own a refrigerator, if a major paper conglomerate cooks its books you may not use toilet paper. This protest is against injustice committed by the greedy, not commerce itself or the products of corporations.’

This appears to be an intractable problem. The powerful get to where they are by making lots of people need (and therefore buy) their stuff. They become an obligatory point of passage.  An alternative is to engage in “lifestyle politics” and avoid the use of technologies that are incompatible with your politics. This, however, usually means you are spending considerable time and effort building new capacities from the ground up, and not using your energy and resources to actually fight what you see as wrong in the world. To the extent that fighting for change and building alternative capacities are mutually exclusive tactics, a collective must make a decision on time horizons and overall goals. In a pluralist social movement like #OWS, there is enough capacity to do both. Some can fight with the problematic tools that are currently available (e.g. Apple computers and Twitter) while others work on new technologies that are less connected to the corporations.

Tactic 3: Pluralist movements must recognize the failures of the existing sociotechnical social order, while also developing alternative capacities. Using computers made in sweatshops and for-profit social networking sites that have dangerous privacy policies are a necessity for effective augmented activism in the short term. Sustained, long term actions should also be working towards alternatives to these technologies.

Building Alternative Capacity

Since the eviction of almost every physical occupation in the United States, occupiers (especially the geeky ones) have been hard at work finding new and inventive ways of coordinating and connecting. One of these efforts is TheGlobalSquare.org– a multilingual, open-source social networking platform that would offer a “platform for the movement.” The media has already billed the project as “Occupy Wall Street Builds Facebook Alternative” but that only tells half the story. Building an alternative to Facebook also means building an alternative set of behaviors. Services like Twitter and Facebook are built with a certain kind of user in mind. They can be used for activism, but they are built for monetizing social activity. This means identity-protecting pseudonyms are forbidden, and censorship is negotiable.

Social media technologies are built with equal parts computer code and social norms. The assumed relationship of the individual to the collective is built into the system. For Facebook that means being open to everyone. Its institutionalized through and by the default settings of your account and the corporate business model. For Twitter, it means talk and connect as much as possible, but within the bounds and abilities of state authorities to suppress free speech on the web. Global Square’s stated philosophy is (in part):

‘The Global Square recognizes the principles of personal privacy as a basic right of individuals and transparency to all users as an obligation for public systems. While User Profiles will allow for as much privacy as the individual desires (technology permitting), Squares, Events, and Task Groups must be, at minimum, completely transparent to their user groups, and Systems must be completely transparent for full auditing capability by all Users.’

Here, again, we see the delicate interplay of transparency and privacy that characterizes Occupy Wall Street. For Global Square, privacy of the individual is paramount, but that privacy is nested within two levels of transparency- transparency of collectives to its constituent individuals, and global transparency of governing sociotechnical systems to all users. Chris Kelty used the term recursive publics in his book Two Bits to describe communities of open-source coders that develop platforms that allow for and sustain the community. Global Square represents a similar social recursion: it is a platform to build capacity for new platforms of capacity building.

Tactic 4: Corporate-owned social media tools are not politically ambivalent. Technologies have embedded within them, assumed relationships and social organizations. Activists taking advantage of social media must recognize the subtle influences these technologies have on social action. If possible, new capacities for augmented activism must be built and maintained.


Granted, the recursion can only go so deep. The code for Facebook or Global Square still run on the problematic hardware part 2 opened up with. The construction of open source hardware is much more complicated and resource intensive. This begs the question: Is it possible to have widely available digital technology in a world without exploited labor? Are the rare earth metals in our smart phones counter-revolutionary? What would a socially just version of Moore’s Law look like? These are questions left to future posts and other authors. What activists can and must do now, is enroll the expertise of engineers and scientist to explore these questions. This might mean activists learning the skills of engineering and science, but it might also mean creating a revolutionary computer science. Creating a computer for the people will be no easy task, and might mean creating a totally new technical artifact. It may also mean redefining technological progress to include lateral shifts that produce similar computational power but in more socially just ways. It is not enough to use these tools for good, we have to make new tools that are good.”

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Dmytri Kleiner, author of the Telekommunist manifesto, discusses in this talk the Internet from the point of view of political economy. He argues that the Internet is inherently communist by nature, being based on direct peer-to-peer communication, or mesh topology, with users engaged in the production of social value as equals. He then discusses how capitalists have tried to co-opt, with some success, the Internet by introducing a different topology, the star topology, by way of services based on the centralised structure of the World Wide Web. Only by this kind of topology where the capitalists position themselves as the mediators of all communication are they able to extract profit from the network. This also explains why the copyright capitalists are so hostile towards file-sharing networks. The talk was held at the SIGINT 2010 conference in Köln on May 23, 2010.

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The Global Square is the name of a social networking platform in development that is targeted at the Occupy and indignant movements as well as other activist groups. The developers have notched up the level of ambition quite a bit since I last blogged about it in January when the project was dubbed “a Facebook for the 99%” by the media. Now the goal seems to be to create a kind of self-sufficient “Internet within the Internet” that satisfies not only the communication needs of occupiers but also the needs related to the development and organisation of new forms of living. Most of the work done on the platform so far has been conceptual, so there’s not much to show in terms of actual implementations yet. Therefore, the developers are currently on the lookout for coders to join in the project. Here is the call-out they released a few weeks ago:

“TheGlobalSquare aims to be the first massive decentralized social network in the history of the Internet. We are aware of the difficulties we must overcome, but we believe the Internet Community has reached a point where such an initiative is possible. It is possible because we are more united; censorship and repression have created stronger bonds between those who care about freedom and the free flow of information. How can we achieve this goal?

Structure: Organizing humanity in a single collective
The Global Square is to be an easy to use social and work platform for individuals and groups. One of the main goals is that it should have very low barriers of entry for inexperienced users, making it as easy as possible for them to contribute work, interact and use the various tools at their disposal. Another goal is that the Global Square be expandable to allow global coordinated and efficient work in every system. TheGlobalSquare recognizes the principles of personal privacy as a basic right of individuals and transparency to all users as an obligation for public systems.
The Global Square is not exclusively for activists. While it will assist activists with the correct tools and virtual meeting areas, it will also be available to the global community. Although the structure is designed for organization and coordination of personal relationships, assemblies and action, the platform is also conceived for independent work systems, movements struggling for civil causes and more. As systems are added that encompass more aspects of daily life and political topics of wide interest, experts and users from all walks of life will be able to use the Global Square to discuss, create and learn. A first example of this is the News Commons, which will be a source of verified, crowd sourced and peer reviewed news on all topics. Other early basic systems to be created on the Global Square are the Global Market for establishing new methods of exchange and the Renaissance and Evolution Forums for testing principles for governance and law. Future systems could include topics such as communications, healing, food, arts, sports, sciences, trade, housing, and energy.
This is an open community where everyone is welcome. It is peer-to-peer, horizontal and non-hierarchical. This is a space where coders, designers, itechs, artists, activists and philosophers are invited to collaborate together. We believe it is necessary to concentrate and focus our energy, so if you are already in a group planning something similar or with the same objectives please participate to enrich both projects.

P2P based
With the support of Delft University of Technology, TheGlobalSquare will mainly be developed based on the existing peer to peer technology provided by the renowned file sharing software Tribler. Tribler is a project focused on decentralized social networks with years of expertise in peer-to-peer communication. By using this particular existing P2P technology it becomes virtually impossible to break or censor our network. The content files are not centralized in any physical server, so the network belongs to its users – a basic principle of participatory democracy applied to the on-line space. It encourages input from users from countries with censorship and blocking; with an ‘unblockable’ space to share all kinds of information and work collaboratively. It has been proven that WEB, as we know it, each day is more closed and subject to arbitrary and illegal blocking. A step beyond it is more than needed.

Open system
TheGlobalSquare will include authentication mechanisms, relational schema and communication protocols. Authentication and communications are up to whoever implements this specification to build a system. That will allow a project to be “TheGlobalSquare compatible” while supporting semantic data, currently visualized as RDF. The RDF vocabularies we develop to represent meaning and relationship are the common thread that enable uniting a variety of platforms. Any network is the sum of the technology supporting it as well as the actual connections made between individuals and groups within it. To succeed, we must be able to both leverage whatever currently exists as well as develop anything needed to build bridges between systems and people. There will be a blend of network protocols, web services, data stores, P2P clients etc. Tools for people across the planet to meet, share ideas and develop proposals must enable coordinated, effective, global action. TheGlobalSquare system will provide a unified way to manage communications between people within a radically heterogeneous vocabulary system.

Build something, get a real-world community to use it, and ask how we can improve it. Instead of detailing the design out from zero, we propose to build software and incrementally improve it. This requires a designed-for-evolution type of modern software engineering approach. Our goal is to have a functional prototype by March 2012. The Global Square will be a featured project at the Berlin Biennale from April 27, 2012 until July 1, 2012. To have something working in March, we need to be modest. We will start with a simple PC app. The first feature to create is an operational skeleton for an attack resilient social network: Users can add friends and send them messages in private. You can also leave messages on the people’s public walls. This first prototype should already have robust security and use Elyptic Key Crypto to secure all communication. Each user creates a public key upon installation. All private messages are encrypted for that person only. All friendships are initiated using spoofing-free mechanisms.

Features after the March release
Using the Agile method we will focus on one feature or module for a few weeks, conduct tests, do a release and then focus on the next feature. By releasing in a 6-8 week cycle we can focus on coding and improvement. A goal is to have a smartphone app later in the year plus a standalone app with a usable GUI. We will start with the stand alone PC app, which later can be turned into an .apk for mobiles. Once the basic prototype is up and running, we can add features beyond social networking, for instance, Squares, Task Groups or Events with communication systems. Once that is up and running the focus could be on “distributed decision making and voting” and the various Systems such as News Commons.

The global square needs developers to turn ideas and dreams in reality!
For such an effort, we must count on the community of coders and developers. We are going to use a Tribler kernel based on Python. We urgently need the help of the community in order to implement all the features planned for The Global Square. If you have expertise in Python and P2P protocols you still have time and opportunity to join our project, a project which will hopefully change the dynamics of interaction among global society.

Various jobs require a combination of the following:

  • experience witH Free Software project basic operation
  • Python programming
  • network protocols, UDP message transfers
  • cryptography, pub/priv key management
  • SQLight, performance, transactions
  • epidemic gossip protocols, for global dissemination of crypted info
  • self-organising network programming
  • GUI in WxWindows
  • Android developer, mixed .py build chain (for later smart phone .apk)

To join:

  • Take a week to read the Global Square wiki and the other documents and understand the existing code.
  • Possibly work for a few weeks on prototyping
  • Feb – March 2012 availability
  • Join the mailinglist: theglobalsquare@lists.takethesquare.net
  • Introduce yourself :-)

General-contact: Pedro Noel info@theglobalsquare.org
Press Contact: Heather Marsh (spokesperson) press@theglobalsquare.org
Developers Contact: Johan Pouwelse and Ed Knutson (development coordinators) dev@theglobalsquare.org”

To elaborate on the call-out a bit, the project consists, as I understand it, of three distinct and more or less independent parts, a federated data exchange system, a p2p-network system, and an application layer that sits on the other two.

The aim of the federated data exchange system, known as the “Global Protocol”, is to define the structure of the data that is passed around in the network and the protocols that are used for accessing the data and communicating between nodes of the network. This will be done by using open standards such as XML/RDF. This will allow any existing social networking platform with an open API to plug in to the Global Square network, including Facebook and Twitter. This is really what sets The Global Square apart from other platforms, as it makes it possible to proliferate the network without forcing people to abandon their existing networks or to switch inconveniently between networks. It also makes the system more viable in the long-term as any new platforms that gain popularity in the future can be easily incorporated into the network.

The aim of the p2p-network is to distribute the data on the network across the individual nodes so that it will be extremely difficult to take down that data by a malevolent party, as it would involve essentially taking down every individual node which may be spread all across the planet. The p2p-network is based on the BitTorrent client Tribler which is being developed in the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Tribler is a fully decentralised system, meaning that it doesn’t require tracker servers to function (see a recent TorrentFreak article on Tribler here). Tribler has been in development for more than six years by a full-time team, so we’re talking about fairly mature technology here. Combined with mesh networking technology on the ground, the p2p-system makes the network highly resistant to shut down attempts by the authorities.

On top of the above systems come the actual applications that the users of the network will be interfacing with. Currently planned applications include a newswire, discussion forums and a global marketplace. Applications that facilitate decision making at the local occupations will likely be considered as well. And, this being open technology, anyone can develop the applications that they need.

Further details and developer information can be found in the Global Square wiki:

There’s also a discussion forum for developers and other interested parties:

For those who want to plunge straight into the actual code, here are the repos related to the p2p-system:
Android app: https://github.com/whirm/tgs-android
PC app: https://github.com/whirm/tgs-pc
Dispersy (distributed permission system) protocol: https://github.com/whirm/dispersy

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