As recent events in Egypt and Tunisia have illustrated (and Myanmar demonstrated several years prior), democratic activists around the globe need a secure and reliable platform to ensure their communications cannot be controlled or cut off by authoritarian regimes. To date, technologies meant to circumvent blocked communications have focused predominantly on developing services that run over preexisting communication infrastructures. Although these applications are important, they still require the use of a wireline or wireless network that is prone to monitoring or can be completely shut down by central authorities. Moreover, many of these technologies do not interface well with each other, limiting the ability of activists and the general public to adopt sophisticated circumvention technologies.
The New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) proposes to build a new type of tool for democratic organizing: an open source “device-as-infrastructure” distributed communications platform that integrates users’ existing cell phones, WiFi-enabled computers, and other WiFi-capable personal devices to create a metro-scale peer-to-peer (mesh) communications network. Leveraging a distributed, mesh wireless infrastructure provides two key enhancements to existing circumvention technologies and supports human rights advocates and civil society organizations working around the globe. First, a distributed infrastructure eliminates the ability of governments to completely disrupt communications by shutting down the commercial or state-owned communications infrastructure. Second, device-as- infrastructure networks enhance communications security among activists by eliminating points for centralized monitoring, by enabling direct peer-to-peer communication, and by aggregating and securing individual communications streams.
- Prevent hostile governments from surveilling, disrupting, or shutting down communications.
- Enhance security among democratic activists by enabling direct peer-to-peer communications.
- Implement open source and open tech solutions that facilitate continued adaptation, enhancement, and implementation of these technologies by democratic activists and programmers around the globe.
- It allows existing Wi-Fi enabled devices (e.g., laptops, smartphones, home wireless routers) to network directly to form a distributed (wireless mesh) communications infrastructure.
- Support encrypted and anonymous data and voice communications transit throughout the network.
- Provide local communications even if Internet connectivity is disrupted or severed.
- Allow existing, unmodified GSM cell phones to connect and exchange anonymous calls, text messages, and other information with other devices on the network.
- Enable any Internet uplink (i.e., any device in the network that is connected to the Internet) to share Internet access to every other device on the network, irregardless of the connection type used (e.g., satellite, dial-up modem, mobile phone, fiber, DSL/Cable, etc.).
Commotion project page here.