The Commotion project | project Commotion

Por · Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Commotion, the project of an internet out of control


A building comfortable and anonymous in the heart ofWashington, a few blocks from the White House. In a row ofoffices at the bottom of the fifth floor, a dozen young people, especially boys, are working quietly in an atmosphere that is both studious and relaxed. This small team consisting of computer scientists, lawyers and sociologists, is currentlytion, the project of an internet out of controlconducting utopia Supreme libertarian hackers and activists around the world: software that enables the creation of wireless high-speed 100% autonomous that will operate on frequencies Wi-Fi, without relying on any existing infrastructure – no telephone relay or cable or satellite.

They will be moving, horizontal, fully decentralized and not susceptible to monitoring, because the traffic will be anonymous and encrypted.



This ambitious project – codenamed Commotion-led by Sascha Meinrath, 37, longtime Internet and free precursor of citizen networks – within the collective of online journalists Indymedia, and the University of Urbana-Champaign (Illinois), one of the cradles of free software, and various start-up NGOs  and social action: “I hacked my first autonomous network a decade ago. The antennas were made with cans “. Since those  heroic times, Sascha Meinrath has come a long way. In its current version, Commotion is a project very official. It is hosted and funded by the Open Technology Initiative (OTI), high-tech department of the New America Foundation, prestigious organization devoted to the study of the major problems of American society, and chaired by Eric Schmidt, one of Google bosses.

Sascha Meinrath
With this trust, Sascha Meinrath has an annual budget of $ 2.3 million (1.6 million), which was added an exceptional grant of  2 million, granted by the State Department . Indeed, U.S. diplomats are keenly interested in the technology of wireless autonomous, lightweight and easy to install. They hope to soon be deployed on the ground in various emergency situations: in areas devastated by war or natural disaster in the poorest regions in the world, where people are deprived of modern communications, and, Finally, as a “circumvention tool” in dictatorial countries, to help political dissidents to communicate with each other and the rest of the world,
thwarting police surveillance and censorship. “Late 2010, Sascha Meinrath remember, I learned by chance that the State Department had decided to support this type of research.We have filed an application in competition with other organizations, and we chosen. The other projects were based in part on existing infrastructure, while the Commotion bypasses entirely. ”


New America Foundation


The only tool to bring the field is key USB


The federal grant was not enough to transform the team officials in Commotion. Josh King, 28, the technical manager, kept his look very rebellious – dressed in black from head to toe, with chain, tousled hair and piercing … His office is cluttered with machines of all kinds, on which he made extensive testing because Commotion must operate with a patchwork. Its software transforms a Wi-Fi router usually a single PC or a smartphone smart relay, able to know in real time the network configuration, and sort the data to be sent to their recipients, or to another relay, more close to the goal. In addition, Concussion can be easily connected to the world: just one device is connected to the Internet than any other benefit from access.

“In fact, says Josh King, the only tool necessary to make the field, it’s a USB stick containing the software to be installed on each unit to be included in the network.” Since the spring of 2011, OTI offers elements Commotion free download on the Internet. A full working version will be available in September, so that experts from all countries to study and make suggestions. Sascha Meinrath do not know exactly who is downloading what, because it does not keep track of users coming on: “If we maintain a list of our visitors, our servers could be hijacked by various governments – including ours.”
Recently, OTI has received messages of militants “Arab Spring”, living in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen, “Commotion They want to get, but we try to dissuade them. It’s too early It is not secure, it would be risky to use against a repressive regime. However, if it is, clandestine groups are already using drafts, without telling us. Some stakeholders may be agents in the service of dictators, but no matter, we show the same thing to everyone. ”

Sascha Meinrath is given until the end of 2012 to produce a version for use by the general public. To go faster, OTI appropriates systems developed by other teams. For security, Commotion will integrate the programs of the project TOR (The Onion Router), invented by a band of German and American hackers to circulate on the Internet while avoiding detection.
TOR has been particularly used to protect communications site WikiLeaks, who disclosed in 2010 the masses of secret documents belonging to the Government of the United States.
One of the creators of TOR, the American Jacob Appelbaum, was a time very close to the team WikiLeaks. Twice, in 2010, he was arrested by U.S. police, who asked him about his activities in WikiLeaks and seized his computers and phones.
However, Jacob Appelbaum is also a personal friend of Sascha Meinrath, who called on him as a consultant for the development of Commotion.
To explain this paradox, Sascha Meinrath suggests “schizophrenia” of the federal government: “Some officials in Washington, there are still people trained during the Cold War, who dream of every block and monitor everything, but there are also Young arrived with Obama, who support the transparency and freedom of expression. Privately, many State Department officials were angry to see their superiors as violently criticize WikiLeaks. They say the case could have be an opportunity to show the world that the United States are
able to defend freedom of expression and transparency in all circumstances. ”
Now, Jacob Appelbaum is involved in a large project called Freedom Box – a basic computer and turned into cheap and secure encrypted server for the general public. Sascha Meinrath plans to integrate the network Commotion Freedom Box, including a benefit function known as “deferred connection”: “For example, during a demonstration repressed by the police, a protester takes a picture with a smartphone connected to concussion. Internet was cut that day in the neighborhood by the authorities, the picture can not leave the country, but with Commotion, it is stored away on a local freedoom box.
Then, as soon as Internet is restored, the box will automatically send the photo in the world. ”




Telecoms companies, potential enemies


OTI is considering integrating other experimental devices, which enable users to share large files masses, transporting Commotion on phone calls made with ordinary mobile phones, to transmit data in all frequency ranges, and even interconnect multiple neighboring networks: “In July, says Sascha Meinrath, a team of hackers in a van set up a network ephemeral, covering an area of ??60 km of 30, riding on Austria, Croatia and Slovenia. C is proof that we can provide Internet access to a border area, without being physically present in the country. ” Concussion is not ready for deployment in areas at risk, but it can already be tested in the United States – for example, in the slums of large cities, whose residents can not afford conventional Internet subscription . In Washington, Detroit and California Indian reserves, ITO has been in contact with neighborhood associations and advocacy groups that had set out to create wireless networks wild, to offer residents free Internet access. With its expertise and its address book, the OTI team provided these amateurs a decisive technical and financial assistance.
This time, potential enemies are the telecom companies, which could put pressure on the authorities, so they kill these citizen initiatives with blows of laws and bureaucratic restrictions. Sascha Meinrath is aware of the threat: “Our technology will upset a lot of things, including the United States. If people start to build their own networks, the business model of telecom groups will collapse. We must expected to strike back against brutal. ” Commotion will also face the hostility of the Hollywood majors, because it can facilitate the piracy of copyrighted works. Sascha Meinrath is both fatalistic and optimistic: “Whether the United States, the Middle East or elsewhere, which will implement these alternative networks? Not old, as we know. These are the teens who are s ‘in possession of it. They will use it to challenge the established order and also to share their music and films.
This may be negative for rights holders, but the overall result will be very positive.


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