Now with Stuff and Things!
A blog by Peter Fein.
The views expressed here do not represent my past, present or future employers, collectives, family, nation-state or houseplants. They are mine alone. Who's else would they be?
I did this interview with The Guardian UK's Chavala Madlena . I really appreciate that she took the time to thoroughly research the article, even joining us on Telecomix IRC to ask questions of the agents.
"The range of people on the Telecomix IRC – so right now's there are about 170 people tops on the IRC people; when we were doing things in Egypt there were about 500. The participation varies – it's what I call an 'ad-hocracy'. We don't have membership, we don't have a formal structure – people just come and go. We have MEPs, we have university professors, grad students ... anybody who's interested in facilitating free speech."
"I had several hours of chats with guys on the ground with what they needed. A lot of the time they don't have the technical knowledge of what they actually need, they just want to be able to communicate without being wiretapped … There's a real attitude of throwing a lot of stuff against the wall and seeing what works."
"I can sit at home in Chicago … and we're not going to get arrested if we oppose Mubarak or Gaddafi – which is important to bear in mind when you're in communication with these people on the ground."
I love talking about this work, as do many of the other agents. Want to hear more? Contact me.
In addition to the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival panel mentioned in the article, I gave the keynote address at Open Source Bridge two weeks ago, followed by several break-out sessions on Telecomix, Anonymous and hacking for freedom. A decent write up of the keynote is online; I'll be posting video & thoughts in the next few days.
I gave the following invited presentation at the Sheffield Doc/Fest film festival as part of a panel on the revolutions in the Middle East. The panel included organizers from Egypt's Youth Movement, documentary filmmakers embedded with Libyan rebels, a director of programming at Al Jazeera English and others. I spoke about my work with Telecomix, a volunteer group of activists who have been keeping the Internet running in the Middle East in the face of government censorship. As always, I speak only for myself, but I think I've done a good job of capturing the spirit of the work we do. A transcript follows.
Hi, my name is Peter Fein, and I've been hacking for freedom. I use the word hack in it's original sense, to mean a clever technical trick - using a system in a way its designer didn't intend.
This video is from Tunisia - it appears to show a flamethrower being used to disperse protesters. What I find compelling here is not the violations of the Geneva Conventions, but the phones - people desperately trying to get word out, to show the world what's happening. And that's why information needs to be free, right there in grainy, glorious mobile video. If we cannot see, we cannot act.
I'm an agent with Telecomix an ad-hoc disorganization of Internauts who support free communication for everyone, regardless of political affiliation. Comprised of programmers, punks, politicians, pirates, and others, Telecomix believes in person-to-person communication - the original p2p.
I sometimes act as a liaison to Anonymous, opportunistically forging connections and collaborations in the service of common goals. On that note, let me go record and state I don't DDOS, deface websites or crack passwords. And if the FBI or Scotland Yard is watching this, screw you.
Telecomix is yin to Anonymous' yang. If Anonymous takes sites down, Telecomix keeps them up. What we have in common with each other, and with the protests on the ground, is that we are truly leaderless and possessed by a radical passion for freedom. We operate as a do-ocracy, a form of organization in which the people who get things done, get things done.
While the Net was up, Telecomix provided tools such as TOR, VPNs and other encryption for safe communication. To restore access to censored sites, we built mirrors and proxies. Using the old school chat IRC, we served as a manual relay to Twitter, tweeting for Egyptians who were unable to do so themselves.
When the Net was down, we went low-tech. When countries block, we (d)evolve.Working with ISPs and individual users, we set up hundreds of dial-up modem lines. These numbers are now active for Syria as well. We recruited amateur radio operators from around the globe to help establish radio communication. Working with Anonymous, we sent comms and medical information, including treatments for tear gas, to every fax machine in Egypt that we could find. We also set up a reverse fax service for transmitting news out of the country. Using the network tool nmap, we scanned the entire Egyptian IP address space to find a few thousand machines that were still up. We then injected human-readable messages into their web server logs.
Future development projects include: intranet livecds using off-the-shelf commodity hardware to run a local Usenet message board, a wiki of street communication tactics, such as wheatpasting and sign making, and a howto for building two-way radios from re purposed consumer electronics.
We've been able to reuse much of this work in Libya, Syria, Iran, Yemen, Bahrain, and Wisconsin. Which was a good thing, because after working twenty hours a day for eight days on Egypt, I really need some sleep.
This is an exciting time to be a person who can use a computer. The cause of freedom calls all of us - not only programmers, but writers and artists, academics and filmmakers, philosophers and trolls. We have the power to make a real difference in the world - to help people achieve what they want for themselves. It's been a long, long winter for freedom in the Middle East and the rest of the world, but we're beginning to see signs of spring.
This post was import from an earlier version of this blog. Original here.
I gave this lightning talk (five minute presentation) at the Pycon programming conference last week; in it I discuss my efforts as a hacktivist working with Telecomix and Anonymous in support of free communication in Egypt and elsewhere.
I use the term hacking in its original sense: a clever technical trick, and not to mean breaking websites or stealing data, as is common in the popular media (I don't do such things, as I say in the video). In this presentation, I speak only for myself and from my own experiences. The actions described were the result of the efforts of many people (from a handful to a few thousand) - I neither claim nor care about credit.
I hosted a 2-hour Birds-of-a-Feather session Friday night and had some great conversations during the hallway track and sprints. Many folks asked how they could get involved, which is what I hoped for when I set out to give this talk. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done here, and not all of it technical. The cause of freedom calls not only programmers, but also writers, artists, hardware hackers, philosophers, punks, data anlysts and dreamers. If you can use a computer, you can help.
Anonymous and Telecomix operate in the open; you just need to know where to look. Remeber, these groups operate as voluntary do-ocracies. No one is going to tell you what to do or give you orders. Instead, join IRC or the forums and if something strikes your fancy, help out. Once you've been around long enough to get a sense of what's appropriate, start your own project (called an "op"); find some collaborators and get doing. Yup, it's really that simple.
Telecomix is a loose association of Internauts who support free communication for everyone, regardless of political affiliation. Most of the work for Egypt discussed in the video was done with Telecomix. Typical projects include mirrors of censored sites, encryption and dialup modem pools. We mantain sites at:
- www.telecomix.org - landing page. Now with jellyfish!
- werebuild.eu - wiki, with info on country-specific operations, including legal threats to Internet freedom in the West
- interfax.werebuild.eu - press releases
- cryptoanarchy.org - collection of privacy and security tools & HOWTOs
- streisand.me - mirroring project
- datalove.me - I still don't understand this
You can join IRC at irc.telecomix.org or via web chat.
Anonymous is an even looser disorganization of chaotic-neutral basement-dwelling trolls who self-describe as an "Internet hate machine". Most widely known for the real-life Project Chanology protests against the Church of Scientology, they've done everything from track down pedophiles to post seizure-inducing images on epilepsy forums. An attempt to summarize or explain Anonymous would be even crazier than they are, so I'm not gonna try. Instead, a small and incompelete roadmap (you're still gonna get lost):
If you like to wear a Guy Fawkes mask and yell at buildings, try Why We Protest. This is the part of Anonymous that did Chanology and executed real-life protests in support of Wikileaks and freedom of information:
Anonops conducts DDOS (we prefer "digital sit-in"), spams fax machines, defaces websites, writes propaganda and otherwise causes a ruckus. There's a wide variety of activities that take place, not all of them legal, and not all of them destructive. Make sure you understand what you're doing before getting involved with ops.
- irc.anonops.ru - main IRC (webchat). Try the #opnewblood channel to get oriented.
- Anonnews - press releases and news links
No discusssion of Anonymous would be complete without a mention of 4chan, the Internet's largest imageboard and the birthplace of Anonymous. Forget not safe for work, 4chan's not safe for earth.
- /b/ - random board. I warned you.
- Encyclopedia Dramatica - a wiki for Anonymous/4chan/Internet culture. If you need to figure out what "I doxed some moralfags and got 'em v&d by the feds. lulz ftw" means, try here.
A Word on Safety
The best way not to get arrested is not to do anything illegal in the first place. But some some activists have been harrassed, so you may want to take steps to protect yourself. Many people at Telecomix, and a few at Anonymous, use their real names. If you choose to participate, consider going through TOR, I2P, a public Net cafe or a reliable VPN provider. You may also opt to use a Live CD instead of your main desktop OS. Avoid giving out unnecessary personal information, including your location. I'll try to write a more comprehensive how-to in the next few days.
These comments were imported from an earlier version of this blog.
awesome and inspirational, I'm going to be interviewd tomorrow at a conference about the hacking for freedom we've been doing lately. :) So I thank you for this! :)