The key to Internet access in countries that block it? A suitcase

Molly Wood Jun 14, 2011
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The key to Internet access in countries that block it? A suitcase

Molly Wood Jun 14, 2011
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The United States government is funding a project to build Internet and phone access systems that can be used even in the event that a foreign government shuts off Internet access to its own people. It involves what’s being called an “Internet in a suitcase,” where robust network equipment can be deployed to allow anyone within a broad radius to get online. The effort picked up steam after the protests in Egypt where Hosni Mubarak was able to cut off Internet access to broad swaths of the country in an effort to quell protests. Recently, the government of Syria did the same for a while.

We talk to Josh King of the Open Technology Initiative at New America Foundation. He’s one of the people who has been designing and building these kits. He says it’s different from the kinds of network systems you or I might be used to when we go on the Internet. It’s what’s known as a mesh network where instead of a hub and spoke system, the devices on the network serve as a series of relays so any device can talk to any other one that’s connected, even if it means passing through several more along the way.

So people on the networks are connected to one another even if the connection to the outside world might not be as strong.

We also talk with Gustaf Bjorksten, access technology director for the advocacy group Access Now. He says this type of connection is much more anonymized than a traditional Internet setup, and as such, it affords the users more privacy and a lower likelihood that they’re activities can be monitored or traced. He says from here the challenge will be getting the suitcases deployed and making sure the gear is easy to set up and operate.

Also in this program, SceneTap is a new company that’s making a system to detect who walks into a bar. We talk to co-founder and CEO Cole Harper who says his system is 85 to 90 percent accurate on gender and 90 percent accurate on age, give or take six years.

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