The internet as we know it is under threat as never before. Surveillance, government censorship and secret corporate power plays threaten to destroy the Internet as a free and open platform for communication.

Much of the problem originates from the fact that the Internet has become ever increasingly centralised. In recent years, powerful encumbered players and elites have seen their power threatened, and have systematically attempted to “manage” the internet.

Communication and the free flow of information is too important a thing to allow to be threatened in such a way, so is it time that the citizens took control?

Citizen network

So, here’s a few thoughts on what this might look, and what I would like to see.

What I’d like to see are a range of local mesh networks grow up, providing free local connectivity to users. Initially, these will be highly local, but as the edges of the network expand, they’ll start to see other local networks and automatically negotiate routing between them. For networks further afield, perhaps an edge node which also has internet connectivity could provide a tunnelled link over the wider internet.

Hard encryption should be baked in, rather than added as an afterthought, and the network should aim for a situation where no unencrypted traffic is seen.

It should be possible to construct this sort of network with inexpensive and freely available hardware and software; perhaps, for small areas, a network of wifi repeaters, and for larger links perhaps a mixture of technologies – inter-network radio or microwave links, or even laying of fibre depending on the budget of those involved.

The goals of these networks should be to provide free access to anyone, and freedom for anyone to run a node on the network. With any luck, this will eventually kill the ISP business, and, in the UK at least, break BT’s stranglehold on connectivity.

There are a few local net projects about of course (they’re quite popular in Greece, apparently), but so far I don’t think we’ve seen much of an attempt to build them elsewhere, or to connect them together.

It’s a big job, but we built the Internet once, could we do it again?

“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” John Gilmore, Time Magazine 6th December 1993

This quote – made almost 16 years ago – sums up in a nutshell why I love the internet sometimes.

As is obvious from the ongoing events this morning that the law firm Carter-Ruck didn’t really understand just how badly it was going to shoot itself in the foot when it gagged the Guardian newspaper in an attempt to prevent them reporting on open questions asked in parliament.

These questions referred to the Minton Report regarding illegal toxic waste dumping.

I guess we should really thank them, because had they not done I wouldn’t have this delicious feeling of schadenfreude as thousands of people find out about their client Trafigura illegally dumping toxic waste off the Ivory Coast, in possibly the largest toxic waste scandal of the 21st century.

The story broke this morning, and has been widely circulated around blogs and twitter, passed around like a note in a giant electronic classroom (Interestingly, at time of writing at least, the BBC have not picked up the story. Make of that what you will).

The internet is people (as my esteemed friend says so often), and when people are connected secrets become much harder to keep, and cover-ups much harder to orchestrate.

People power ftw.

Update: The gag order on the Guardian has been lifted shortly before they were due to appear in the high court.

Could the shitestorm generated could possibly have something to do with it..?

or maybe not.