Monday, February 06, 2012

Designing Technology for Freedom: Could a "Citizen Defence Through Truth App" help Syria?

Update: This idea seems to have hit a chord with some.  Please, if you read this, send the link to two others.  With any luck, a few altruistic programmers or others with the skills needed to get communication into the hands of the oppressed.

In a volume no greater than a deck of cards, the general purpose computer now fits in our pockets. Just about all the features we expected, from desktop or notebook computers, now come in smart phones.

Most people know that these devices have cameras, WiFi, microphones, and accelerometers.  Some even use these devices as hot-spots to allow their other devices to access the Internet via the smartphone's wireless data service.

Fewer of us understand what can be done with these technologies when combined in these small packages.

So how can we turn these devices into defenders of human rights and democracy?

We need a "Citizen Defence Through Truth App."

Here are some features I have thought about:

Wireless: Using the full feature WiFi hardware in these devices, the app should provide the ability for a phone to participate in a mesh network comprised of all phones running the app.  This network should focus on low data rates for maximum WiFi distance.  The benefit of mesh networking is in its ability to remain robust as nodes in the network disappear or move.

Anonymity:  Data transfer and storage on the mesh network should work in a manner based on FreeNet and Tor.  This can reduce the risk individuals may face by hosting sensitive information.  Data would be replicated to maintain a robust information store.  As with FreeNet, the most frequently accessed data will be the most robust.

Stealth:  The app must be designed so as to be very hard to find on its device.  It should try and maintain itself in volatile RAM.  Perhaps it could wipe itself if a dead man code isn't entered regularly.

Communication: The app should provide for secure chat, picture sharing, video feeding, web proxying and voice messaging.  Perhaps face and licence plate detection routines could automatically blur video and images to further protect vulnerable individuals.

Taking this a step further, wireless carrier service can be provided by small aerial drones or wireless sites in border states as Internet gateways using satellite data or other methods for Internet connectivity.  Drones could also drop small solar powered relay devices and full featured devices tailored to run the app.  They need be no larger than a deck of cards using current technologies.

This is all doable now!  I hope those with better engineering skills can make it happen.  The truth on the streets of Syria, or any other human rights denying state, must be seen by the world.  There are citizen journalists in enormous peril as we speak.  If we truly do believe in human rights, democracy, and freedom, we owe it to these people to give them the best chance possible.

Update: I'm overjoyed to see my idea being picked up by other bloggers and developers.  Here are a few.  Let me know if I missed you and I'll be happy to update this list. thanks to GildasSapiens thanks to beauseph (My own post)
The Tyranny Daily thanks again to GildasSapiens