Moglen Backs 'Freedom Box' to Deliver Internet Privacy, Security

By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2011-02-17

Moglen Backs 'Freedom Box' to Deliver Internet Privacy, Security

The Secretary of State recently called Internet freedom a foreign policy priority for the United States. Now a law professor at Columbia University has very clear plans on how to make it possible to have privacy and security online.

It all begins with the Freedom Box, a personal server running free software that would make it possible for users to securely share files with friends, encrypt their data online and maintain their privacy when surfing the Web, Columbia University's Eben Moglen told eWEEK.

"Turn freedom on," Moglen said.

A system with built-in privacy and security, the Freedom Box would encrypt connections, let users check out sites online privately in "normal life" and provide a mechanism for communicating safely for people living in oppressive regimes, Moglen said. Simply put, the little device is intended to be a network appliance that allows people to be safe and anonymous online, according to Moglen. It can run on any number of hardware, even on just a plain SD card, he said.

If two people have Freedom Boxes, they can directly share files without having to worry about going through Facebook and chat securely, bypassing government monitoring, according to Moglen. People can maintain their privacy and "not live in a database controlled by fools," he said.

Moglen has been talking about the Freedom Box for a while now at various conferences and meetings with developers, but nothing has happened yet. He created the Freedom Box Foundation on Feb. 16 to organize the software development efforts.

"Events around the world are making it clear we can't wait another year before getting Freedom Boxes off of the technical design board and into people's lives," according to the foundation's Website.

The foundation launched on Feb. 17 a Kickstarter campaign to raise $60,000 in 30 days. If the goal is met, the plan is to release a first version of the software six months later. According to the foundation's Website, the goal is to eventually raise $500,000.

Freedom Boxes have often been described as a "personal server," a device the size of a cell phone charger. These chips are "not as powerful as the ones from Intel" but are more power-efficient, Moglen said. Currently available for limited applications and still rather costly, he expects these devices to be ubiquitous and much cheaper in the next several years.

Foundation Aims to Distribute Free Web Privacy Software


In a recent speech at Debconf, a Debian Linux conference, Moglen told the developers, "That's your iPhone. Make the Freedom Box."

The Freedom Box Foundation is not about hardware, however. "We don't want to be in the hardware business, just software," Moglen said. The hardware is not important, since it's the software that will make privacy and security possible online, he said.

People have plenty of devices lying around that are not that old, but are already not as powerful or as capable as what is currently in stores. Routers are a perfect example, since a brand-new router has more capabilities than a router from a few years ago, according to Moglen. There is plenty of cheap hardware available, and it doesn't make sense to specify specific hardware when they don't work in all countries, he said. It's easier to get different types of hardware in China and North Korea than here in the United States, he said.

"If you tell a kid that if he can talk to anyone without worrying about censors, he will get whatever hardware he needs," Moglen said.

The goal of the Freedom Box Foundation is to get the free software developed and distributed, he said.

As free software, the foundation would be able to get the "most bang" for the "least cost" and achieve "widest distribution" in the "shortest time," Moglen said.

Moglen declined to mention who the technical leaders of the project are, but said he will be announcing them "soon." He did say they "will be names that are famous in free software and open source IT," the people everyone knows as being the "genius" of some major company, he promised.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech at George Washington University about Internet and human liberty on Feb. 15. In her speech, she criticized foreign governments that followed their citizens online, collected identifying information before arresting activists and punished people for communicating with the wrong people.

"People want her to mean it," he said. America has to stand for Internet freedom, he said. "If we mean Internet freedom, we have to do it," he said.

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