Eben Moglen calls for Freedom Box to counter power of Facebook

An influential American professor has stepped up his campaign to provide internet users with a Freedom Box so that governments and big companies are not able “watch every twitch of our fingers.” .

With Facebook getting much of the credit for the revolution in Egypt, New York Professor Eben Moglen said this week that social networking had changed the balance of political power.

But he warned, “Everything we know about technology tells us that the current forms of social network communication - despite their enormous current value for politics - are also intensely dangerous to use. They are too centralised; they are too vulnerable to state retaliation and control.”

The decentralised structure of these devices contrasts sharply with today’s biggest internet providers, which offer the same services in exchange for users turning over some of their most trusted secrets.

Dan Goodin , writing in PCs & Chips, explained it, “Eben Moglen has unveiled a plan to populate the internet with tiny, low-cost boxes that are designed to preserve individuals' personal privacy.”

Prof Moglen is not a fan of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Moglen said during a meeting last year of the Internet Society’s New York branch, that he “had done more harm to the human race than anybody else his age.

“He has to a remarkable extent succeeded with a very poor deal, namely ‘I will give you free web-hosting and some PHP doodads and you get spying for free all the time.”

As Moglen envisions them, Freedom Boxes would be used to perform services that most of the world has been brainwashed into believing are better performed in the cloud. Secure backups that automatically store data in encrypted form would be performed on the Freedom Boxes of our friends, just as their encrypted data would be stored on ours.

The boxes would also be used to send and receive encrypted email, VoIP calls, and to act as a safer alternative to social-networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

Professor Moglen told the New York Times the Freedom Box would be a small device the size of a mobile phone charger, running on a low-power chip. “You plug it into the wall and forget about it.”

Almost anyone could have one of these tiny servers, now produced for limited purposes but could be adapted to a full range of Internet applications, Mr Moglen, who now runs the Software Freedom Law Centre added.

“You would have a whole system with privacy and security built in for the civil world we are living in. It stores everything you care about.”

Put free software into the little plug server in the wall, and you would have a Freedom Box that would decentralise information and power, Mr. Moglen said. This month he created the Freedom Box Foundation to organize the software.

“They will get very cheap, very quick,” he told the Times. “They’re $99; they will go to $69. Once everyone is getting them, they will cost $29.”

The missing ingredients are software packages, which are available at no cost but have to be made easy to use.

“We have to aim our engineering more directly at politics now,” he said. “What has happened in Egypt is enormously inspiring, but the Egyptian state was late to the attempt to control the Net and not ready to be as remorseless as it could have been.”

Prof Moglen began working with computers as a boy. In 1973, at 14, he wrote for the Scientific Time Sharing Corporation. At 26, he was a young lawyer, clerking for Justice Thurgood Marshall. Later, he was the lawyer for the Free Software Foundation.

In the first days of the personal computer era, many scoffed at the idea that free software could have an important place in the modern world. The scoffers got it wrong. This month, Mr. Moglen urged a convention of 2,000 free-software programmers in to get to work on the Freedom Box.

If revolutions for freedom rest on the shoulders of Facebook, Mr. Moglen said, the revolutionaries will have to count on individuals who have huge stakes in keeping the powerful happy.

“It is not hard, when everybody is just in one big database controlled by Mr. Zuckerberg, to decapitate a revolution by sending an order to Mr. Zuckerberg that he cannot afford to refuse,” Mr. Moglen said.

By contrast, with tens of thousands of individual encrypted servers, there would be no one place where a repressive government could find out who was publishing or reading “subversive” material.

Responding to Mr. Moglen, a group of developers working in a free operating system called Debian have started to organise Freedom Box software. Students at New York University have been building a decentralised social network called

.

Mr. Moglen said that if he could raise “slightly north of $500,000,” Freedom Box 1.0 would be ready in one year.

“We should make this far better for the people trying to make change than for the people trying to make oppression,” Mr. Moglen said. “Being connected works.”

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