During the uprising in Egypt, in January 2011, the order was given to “turn off” the Internet, sending shock-waves around the world. Murmurs were heard of US security agencies and American politicians asking for access to a similar kill switch.
Since then Internet access has been manipulated in many other countries where citizens have sought to bring down regimes, while in other places there are ongoing restrictions to free Internet access, despite this access being declared a fundamental human right by the United Nations.
These actions force us to look at who owns The Internet?
The ChokePoint project is a response to the Arab Spring uprising where a group of us wanted to take action and do something useful. The project is made of 2 parts, one being a near real-time internet censorship monitoring platform. This includes a data collection part and a visualization element which is a public facing site. We will be able to monitor whether connections have been cut in specific regions of countries, helping alert journalists and activists. The platform will be based on reliable data, visualized in a very accesible manner, featuring contextual information for each country. This system could also help in natural disaster situations by detecting the extent of damage done. See a prototype here: http://euhackathon.chokepointproject.net/
At the same time we are developing an educational project to inform politicians, NGO’s, journalists, researchers, students and other interested parties about the realities of how the Internet works, including its underlying structures, through workshop modules aimed at the non-geek and focussed on participation.
When we began the project, we didn’t know the real scope of what we were trying to achieve, but it quickly became apparent that we didn’t have the skills needed to carry it out. We reached out through our networks and were lucky to find some very talented, very committed people and gained some buzz by winning the Next Idea category at Ars Electronica.
Some of the team came together at the Chaos Communication Camp in August to work on the system architecture and subject it to the scrutiny of people from around the world working on similar projects. The architecture is vital in this project because it is necessary to get real data from users worldwide, often in hostile environments and without compromising their security. Again the network responded and we made some very important contacts. Since then we’ve been working on the dataviz as well as doing outreach with politicians, hackers, journalists, bloggers, organisations, rights groups and anyone else with an interest. The prototype platform was developed at the the first EU Hackathon at the EU parliament in Brussels in November, and we’ve done workshops & presentations and attended many events. Oh yes, and started to work on fund-raising as we’ve been doing this in our “spare time” up until now.
Ironically, I’m not a “hacker” at all, if by hacking we’re talking about technical skills. But I do have a JFDI (Just F***ing Do It) mentality which I guess is similar to hacking. The situation now is probably worse than when we began the project so doubtless the knowledge aquired and contacts made so far will be even more useful in the future.