Eben Moglen's talk at FOSDEM '11

Eben Moglen of the Software Freedom Law Center and at the Free Software Foundation gave the first keynote of Fosdem 2011

The talk centered around freedom in the literal sense, as opposed to the 'freedom 0' sense of the GPL. To paraphrase, what coal & steel was to 20th century politics, electricity and software is to the 21st century.

Using WikiLeaks, Tunisia & Egypt as examples, he made the point that centralisation of social utilities such as Facebook & Twitter are not a good thing for civic society, firstly because they introduce a single point of failure, and secondly because the interest of those companies - profit - is not aligned with the interests of the protesters, i.e. the promotion of liberty and disruption of the (often profitable) status quo. Eben made the point that 'we' as the free software community are behind the curve in meeting the need of citizens engaged in this kind of activism.

He then made a short diversion into Eisenhower's warning against the U.S. military industrial complex, which he said had evolved into a 'surveillance military industrial complex'. He referenced the contempt shown to the rule of law during the Bush years, and the expansion of Bush policies on rendition etc. under Obama.

At roughly this point he announced what he called the "Freedom box" initiative (/foundation) whose goal was to produce a 'plug' form-factor PC that could act as a node in a wireless mesh network and provide routing / connectivity, maybe function as a base station and potentially offer other services too. Enough of these, made cheaply and distributed relatively densely in modern cities, could act as a relatively robust WAN in times of peace, and as an information back-bone free from kill switches when such a thing becomes necessary.

During the talk I had the good luck to be sat next to Juliusz Chroboczek, an adjunct professor working at a Paris university on, among other things, mesh networking, as you can see from his research page. Eben's promotion of meshes also reminded me very strongly of the now-vanished WikiWikWAN project, the sole trace of which seems to be it's CodeCon 2002 listing. The lightning talk on open source telecoms by Donatus Onwunumah seems to be highly relevant too.

I had to leave right after the talk, so I didn't get to engage in the many follow-up conversations that no doubt ensued, but I'm interested to see him throwing his weight in a new direction - and I look forward to seeing how this develops.

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