Global Civil Society

TRANSMESH

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Workshop TRANSMESH in Tunis

 
 

 

Introducing the project TRANSMESH by Christian Schröder and Andrea Plöger

Presented at International Seminair: Pour une information et un Internet libre, 23.-25.11.2014 in Paris

We are an initiative concerned about the growing dependency of communication structures and services provided by private transnational companies. We see the potential of the Internet to bring freedom of expression and enforce the right to uncensored communication and access to information threatened by these private companies.

The use of smartphones, tablets or data glasses (e.g. google glasses) are devices that allow us to organize our daily life in the most comfortable and less time consuming ways. However, every new technical device or commercial software also allows companies to collect more and more data about their users. The place you are in (google maps), the people you know (facebook), the things you want to buy in the future (amazon), and many other things about you, are well known by transnational companies. There is no guarantee that private companies do not share data with secret services and authorities or even collaborate with them (see Last Snowden revelation about the cooperation with the telecommunication company Vodaphone). These companies make huge profits with the evaluation of private data and targeted advertising. We are afraid that critical voices could be silenced or people could be persecuted as we already can perceive with the cases of whistle blowers as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. We do not want these powerful service providers to decide on what we might be interested in and what we should better not know.

Against this background, we would like to rise awareness on these developments and to suggest (re-)enforcing the development of a decentralized and independent communication infrastructure that is not controlled by cooperations. This communication infrastructure should be understood as a political (grassroots) movement as well as a network that aims at the crossing of national and political boarders: TRANSMESH.

What is TRANSMESH?

Mesh is a decentralized network in which every node is connected to all other nodes. If one node is blocked or broken down, the whole network is still working. This makes it save, very efficient and there is no need for central administration.

One example for the use of a MESH network are the most recent protests in Hong Kong. The authorities switched off the mobile phone network to prevent the communication between the activists. In response, the activists used an application called Fire Chat which allows its users to share information without the necessity to have a connection to the Internet or mobile networks. Every user becomes a node in the network and can pass messages via bluetooth or Wireless LAN. This smartphone application, however, is a commercial tool. There is no privacy. Everyone can read the messages without any encryption.

An example for a non-commercial mesh network are community-driven networks that have been created by activists in Berlin, in London and other cities around the globe. In Germany it is called Frei-Funk (Free Broadcasting). Every user can install a free software on a router and connect its with other routers in the network. In this way a private MESH network is formed that allows to share data and information privately.

Such MESH initiatives can help to contribute to the democratization of communication, the struggle against the digital divide and first and foremost can contribute to build an independent and decentralized infrastructure for media activism (such as license-free radio broadcasting, political news, etc.). Last but not least it is a way to promote the use and the common development of free software.

These community-driven, mostly city-based MESH networks are not yet connected to each other. However, a user agreement for MESH networks has been written by these groups. This agreement is called Pico Peering Agreement (http://www.picopeer.net/PPA-en.html) and describes the most important principles of a MESH network

Moreover, the TRANSMESH project is related to the World Forum for Free Media and uses the Charter for Free Media as the fundamental basis of its values (www.fmml.net). This Charter will be approved in March 2015 at the World Forum for Free Media taking place two day before the World Social Forum in Tunis (Tunisia).

Objectives and Realization of TRANSMESH

One challenge we want to face is the fact that some of the above mentioned MESH initiatives are either apolitical or too small. The question the project TRANSMESH is aiming to give an answer to is: How can we create a MESH network on the TRANS-national level? Regarding this, an important challenge is how can we connect these initiatives mainly located in the ‚Global North‘ with those in the ‘Global South‘. Last but not least TRANSMESH aims at promoting the use and common development of free software. To most people Internet seems to be equal to facebook or google. We, the media activists, are no exception. The use of proprietary and commercial services is still common. In the project TRANSMESH we will consequently use free software and will try to combine technical development and political media activism.

Another challenge is how to kick off the project in a non-exclusive way with the few means we have or hope to obtain. In order to be as inclusive as possible and in order to avoid perpetuating digital and gender gaps but rather to attenuate them, an assessment of needs and conditions of the concerned movements and groups will be at the start of the project.

The TRANSMESH project needs to build upon the existing networks and infrastructure while finding – at the same time – the means to network between them and to contribute to maintain them. Thereby existing inequalities and unequal access should be attenuated. We want to focus on practical solutions on the local level rather than just disposing technological solutions.

Since TRANSMESH is a decentralized network, the advantage is obvious for many movements and persecuted groups of people such as migrants or refugees. TRANSMESH cannot easily be discovered and switched-off by the authorities.

The need for it might even grow with augmenting crisis e.g. the climate change and the possible repressive measures taken to counter protests and uprising. TRANSMESH aims at contributing to secure the right to free access to information and the freedom of expression and helps to democratize media and bring them back under the control of the people.

Concrete next steps

Contacting allied networks and mapping the existing structures of our allies.

Kick-off meeting as part of the World Forum of Free Media and World Social Forum in Tunis in March 2015.

Late summer of 2015 Workshop in Berlin with practical instruction and further networking and mapping.

We welcome all comments or critics about this project and love to get to know other initiatives and groups who work on such or similar issues. Please get in touch with we us.


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