Punknet: the internet without Big Brother

Posted on August 25, 2009

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In the following paragraphs I will lay out in semi-technical detail an idea for an alternative internet. The motivation is simple – internet companies are evil, I'm sure anyone who's had to set up home broadband will agree. But the problems go much further than tech support being non-existent or speeds being a fraction of what is advertised.
The problem is this: everyone is after your data. Internet companies (ISPs) regularly filter, examine, and selectively slow down or block data. They seek to make you use the internet on THEIR terms – far from the ideal of freedom that gave birth to the web. Other companies aim to track your data and your habits in order to sell you their stuff.

But it goes further. Governments just can't get enough of your data. In the UK (again) one project to store the title, origin, and destination of every email sent has just been shot down… only to be revived in a slightly different but equally invasive form. Many politicians and police forces are fighting for the right to track everything people do online, what sites are visited, what is purchased, what is said. Various efforts exist (notably Australia) to censor the internet similarly to China or Iran.

All in the name of security – protecting our nations from people who would impose oppressive regimes – and in the process turning our nations into oppressive police states…

And so I propose a solution: Punknet (Freedomnet might work, but reminds me too much of "Freedom Fries"… lets not go there). The basic idea is this – a network system that allows data to "hop" from point to point in a loose grid network. By using WiFi networks that are now so dense in most cities that any one point will be in range of half a dozen networks most cities could be easily spanned by such a network. Some form of tunnelling, or possibly special links would allow inter-city communication. The key idea is that internet access is no longer dependant on ISPs or phone companies or other centralised services. Maybe it would be possible to access a lot of the "backbone" network through special links in Universities (which are usually major internet hubs)

The technical challenge is not small. The protocal would have to limit hogging at any one point in the grid, possibly by marking the culprits as "unhappy" nodes and routing traffic around them. There would also be problems making sure the packets are secure and can't be intercepted and read as they bounce around the network. The protocol would also have to inherently support darknets to allow tunnelling traffic through traditional networks.

Some kind of "Grid Server" would be needed to allow web pages to exist without depending on a centralised server. This could work by making the page design (layout, css) locally stored – once you've visited a page it stays. The page content is cached in small chunks across the network, pages can then filter down to you. The user can also choose to host more or less of a page on his own computer. A method would need to be devised to allow the machine to know what parts of the page it has stored.

It coule be possible to use the GPS built into most smartphones (which would form an important part of the network) to tag the packets with a location and destination, making the transfer through the network more efficient. This would however present privacy issues.

The technology to create such a network exists. It may even be possible to use long range WiMax for personal routers, increasing the range of the grid. However the effectiveness of such a network would depend a lot on its popularity – something that is hard to guarantee.
And there is of course the killer solution: fight for and win your rights to online freedom and privacy.

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