December 16th, 2010
Say that you are convinced. You think that what is happening is a scary precedent for the future, and you believe that the freedom of the Internet is threatened. What can you do? Is there anything anyone can do that actually makes a difference? And do you dare to do it in that case? Should you? I guess most of those questions are up to you. There is definitely something people can do. And it’s important that they do it. But whether you will dare to risk the possible negative attention you will get is up to you.
I wanted to just briefly give a few ideas on things you can do if you want to do something. Of all the things mentioned here, the absolutely most important one is to not keep silent. If you believe what’s happening is problematic, say something. Blog about it. See if your company is interested in making a public statement. Discuss it with your friends (and enemies). Make this issue visible, and make the public aware that there is certainly discontent about these things among us technologists. So if you decide you want to do something, make this your first priority.
Does doing anything actually make a difference? There is this truism about how a perfect traditional economist would never vote – there is no point. So will your specific actions make a difference? Probably not. Except, if no one is doing anything, we have lost for sure. If some of us decide to act, we have the possibility of having an impact at least. I personally feel I have a moral obligation to act – this follows on my reading of current events. If I believe that what is happening is threatening to us, then I can’t just sit back and not do anything. Not acting makes me complicit.
So what can you do? I’m not saying you should do all, or even any of these things. But these are your options if you want to do something. In more or less random order, these are some things you can do:
Host a mirror
There are now over 2000 Wikileaks mirrors online. Most of these are hosted by private individuals or smaller companies outside of the US. It might seems like 2000 is a lot, but there is strength in numbers. And the more people that join the effort to mirror wikileaks, the less chance there is of it ever being threatened to go off the internet again. So host a mirror. The risk is pretty small since there are so many of them now.
From a practical perspective, it’s quite easy to host one. If you have either a domain name (that allow you use a sub-domain) or a stable IP-address (which you can register an address on dyndns with) you can host it. There are good instructions for Ubuntu on the page where you sign up to mirror. You need SSH and RSync (you shouldn’t use FTP). If you happen to have a Solaris server (like I do) you might find that RSync isn’t actually on the path on the server when doing a test run. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to set this path in a way that RSync would see. The magic place to edit is /etc/default/login. Just add a PATH entry pointing to the right directory. Also, remember to make sure your ~/.ssh and ~/.ssh/authorized_keys have the right permissions. After you’re done, just sign up and wait.
Download the insurance file
Wikileaks published an “insurance file” a while back. It’s encrypted and about 1.4Gb large. You won’t be able to open it and see what’s inside – which is the whole point. This file contains information (or random bits), that will be released if something happens to Assange or Wikileaks. This tactic only works if many people have the file lying around and are willing to publish the content if something goes wrong. So fire up your BitTorrent client, search for “wikileaks insurance” on The Pirate Bay and download the file. Put it on any semi permanent storage you have available, and then be prepared. If something were to happen and Wikileaks publishes the encryption key, it’s your responsibility to open up the file and publish whatever is inside.
Attend/Organize rallies and demonstrations
In many places around the world, rallies and demonstrations are being organized. If you feel strongly about these issues, show up and display your support. It is always helpful to meet others who have the same opinion, of course. But the outrage of the public is a great way of getting through. Australia seems to have been leading the way in this section!
There are many worth causes to donate to if you care about these issues. The most obvious one is Wikileaks but there are many other similar organizations. If you care about the harassment of Assange, his legal funds need help. If you care about the plight of Bradley Manning (Army Private being held responsible for the Wikileaks actual leaking), he definitely needs a legal fund. Reports imply that he is held under torture like conditions and have been for a long time. Indications are that he will not get a fair hearing.
There are other organizations that care a lot about the freedom of the Internet. You can find many if you look around. The only one I want to mention here is the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
If you have a blog, I urge you to write about these issues. At the moment I haven’t really seen anyone (except Tim Bray here) from the technology sphere blogging about these things. That scares me a lot. So please! It doesn’t have to be big. Just express your thoughts about these things. My hope is that as more and more people do this, we will see an increase in public opinion.
Register your miscontent with your government representative
Write a letter to your government representative with your thoughts. If they get enough letters like this, we might see a change in the way government approaches these things. Most of us live in a democracy. Use that before it’s too late and we don’t live in a democracy anymore.
Investigate OpenStack and other alternatives to Amazon
There are alternatives in terms of cloud storage and computation. Investigate the alternatives. There are after all many cloud providers out there at the moment. You also have the possibility of creating your own cloud solution on top of OpenStack. Or if you feel like a challenge, start investigating the possibility of a completely open, distributed cloud – something that can never be shut down.
One of the more problematic aspects of the attack on Wikileaks was how quickly EveryDNS pulled their DNS entry. This is only possible because there is a certain amount of centrality built in to the infrastructure of DNS. Peter Sunde have proposed a P2P DNS protocol that might solve the problems inherent in centralized DNS hosting. If you are a programmer, see if you could lend your efforts toward an open source P2PDNS implementation. The infrastructure of the Internet will have to become less vulnurable, and this effort is one of the main ways of accomplishing that.
Cryptography, privacy and anonymity
One of the basic ideas of many legal systems around the world is that your privacy is very important. An even stronger part is the fact that most of us have the right to free speech. Without the possibility of privacy and anonymity, we can never act fully on these rights. That’s for both good and bad – the same tenets can be used to spread things that we don’t agree with, just as extremely important information can be published. It all goes back to Voltaire – a man who’s philosophy was summarized as “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Either we defend this or we don’t. And if we don’t we lose our own right to say or think what we will too.
Cryptography is turning out to be a powerful tool to ensure privacy, but also attribution, non-repudiation and integrity. The more we use strong cryptography, the harder it will be for governments to decide what we can and can’t say. And the hard it will be for them to listen in on what we say. There are solutions that allow you surf anonymously (such as TOR), and there are proposols about strong cryptographic solutions that will allow the distribution of data and compution in a safe way across the Internet. If you care about any of the issues raised in this blog, know that strong cryptography is one of the main technical means to a safe future. You should investigate and use crypto as much as possible.
There are proposals to outlaw crypto around the world – and there are many countries where hard drive encryption is already outlawed (such as Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Libya, Iran and Iraq). If crypto traffic is outlawed on the Internet, it will be very easy for ISPs to detect and stop such traffic – so it’s important that as many people as possible start using crypto right now. If everyone is using it, it will be impossible for ISPs to block the traffic and remain in business.
There are many things you can do. If you care, I hope you will choose at least one of the options above. Choose a side in these events!