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[Freedombox-discuss] Store-and-forward is a necessity

Hello all,

So far it appears that everyone is focused on TCP oriented connection
protocols which require the freedom box to have a live Internet
connection, perhaps via mesh. That would seem to me to be missing what I
see as the whole point of Freedombox entirely. 

I, too, have been thinking people need some small and inexpensive device
which people can use to communicate and get freedom.  I was happy to
hear of the foundation of this project.

The first thing evil regimes always seem to do is to turn off the
Internet access and censor communications in general. I keep asking
myself, "How did people communicate electronically before broadband
Internet or even PPP dial-up enabled the always-on connections which
allowed the web to grow?" The answer is store and forward message
passing systems: UUCP in the case of pre-Internet communications. 

More than anything people need a way to ship around messages such as
tweets, emails, IMs, and smallish files. They need to be able to send
around simple news and activity coordination items. They don't need
flash and ajax and graphic heavy webpages. That is for marketing, not
freedom-giving information exchange.

Wild stream of consciousness brainstorming follows:


* Allowing transmission of messages world-wide in the face of active

* Not requiring a dedicated Internet connection

* Encrypted

* Hard to detect

* Location-aware (for routing purposes)

* Provide very basic communications abilities. This is an improvement
  when people have no ability to communicate at all.


Dedicated freedombox devices

Mobile phones/apps


Primarily wifi with wired and 3G Internet gateways as short-cuts via
systems that support it.

How it works:

There would be a standard messaging protocol similar to UUCP or AMQP or
SMTP or something (whatever best fits whatever the ultimate system is to
be). Messages (be they files, SMS, email, whatever) would be fit into
this protocol. 

The whole idea is to get a message from a place that doesn't have an
Internet connection (presumably because an evil regime has destroyed the
economy so there is no infrastructure or is actively prohibiting net
connections) to a place where there is one so that the message can be
delivered and vice versa.

It would implement a protocol...call it (for lack of anything better)
Freedom Protocol (FP).

It would have a GPS or be able to be fed its lat/long by a passing GPS
enabled device communicating to it via wi-fi (such as a mobile phone
since many of them have GPS and wi-fi in them now). Accuracy isn't
important. We just want to know what general part of the world we are
in. Accurate to within 10km would probably even be good enough.

Let's say that I am a revolutionary who wants to send out a message to
another local revolutionary. I can encrypt a message to his key or send
in the clear if I don't have it or am not capable. I have a mobile phone
with wifi and GPS. 

Like all FP capable devices, it knows:

* Where we are likely located (via onboard GPS or because someone told
  it where we were when it last communicated with a GPS enabled FP
  speaking device)

* Where I generally travel (doesn't keep specifics on lat/long, just a
  probability distribution because I don't want my phone to tattle on my
  exact movements, especially if it is captured).

* What the probability of my coming into contact with a wired uplink is
  (think of this like NTP: call it stratum 1 probability)

* What the probability of my coming into contact with another FP device
  and its probability of coming into contact with a wired link (stratum
  2 probability etc)

* It also keeps track of the probability of communicating to a
  particular part of the world of each of the other FP speaking devices
  it talks to. This is for routing messages back to the non-connected


* Wifi bandwidth is plentiful but not unlimited while we have it but
  connections are somewhat rare.

* Connections to the wired Internet from which everything can be reached
  are rarer.

* Opportunities to transmit/pass along may be limited, especially at

* Message space is limited

My device wants to hand off this message as soon as possible. They find
each other via wifi broadcasts. Maybe the above probability info is what
we broadcast if we can fit it all in a packet. 

We want to find other devices and offload our message(s) quickly. We can
keep a history of what location and stratum probability distributions we
typically see. From this we can decide how desperate we are to offload a
message and to whom. We should probably hand off the message to the very
first device we see just to get it out there, then perhaps more
judiciously later for either a fixed amount of time (TTL?) or until we
get a reply.

We come into contact with another device implementing FP protocol. It
could be mobile (an app running on a GPS/wifi enabled mobile phone), it
could be fixed (a wall wart discretely hidden away somewhere). We send
it our message. It weighs the likelyhood that it will be able to deliver
the message vs available storage capacity. It may drop an old message, a
message which has already been passed along a number of times or reached
its (potentially long) TTL, or whatever message it calculates it is
least likely to be able to deliver (which might even be ours).

You can transmit an awful lot of SMS style text messages quickly via
wifi. We want to be able to get this done in mere seconds in case we are
passing by quickly such as in a car.

Our message gets passed along in this way hopefully always getting
closer to its recipient whose location we specified in general and
perhaps specifically by encrypting to his private key.

Or perhaps we want to send a message to the free Internet-enabled world.
We cruise around and it gets sent to a fixed location device nearby a
busy street. Every hour or two a mobile phone passes by on its way to
the airport. That mobile phone is going to get on a plane and go
somewhere in the world.  We know this because of the location
probability distribution. We know that device within hours is very
likely to be in contact with a dedicated wired Internet connection. We
dump every message we possibly can on him, starting with the messages it
is mostly likely to be able to deliver followed by less likely messages
because our connection is just temporary and will get dropped as we move
out of range, possibly while we are still transmitting.

That device lands at the airport in Europe somewhere where it disburses
its messages to other mobile FP speaking devices. In fact, it probably
already did so on the plane before everyone turned their phones off or
even in the departure area while everyone was waiting to board. But it
might also do so in the arrivals hall although it may not because it is
satisfied that it has already delivered to enough other devices with a
high probability of being in contact with a wired connection soon.

In a nearby concesssion along the terminal on the way to the baggage
carousel someone has discretely stashed a fixed FP speaking device. It
spends all day receiving and transmitting messages to different parts of
the world as the FP speaking mobile phones walk by on the way to their
international flights. Via the probability broadcasts it knows who is
likely returning to China, to Pakistan, to Venezuela, etc. although it
only knows these places at lats/longs. There is also a similar box in a
neighborhood on the main thoroughfare passing almost as many messages
from the taxis and buses as they go by. Not to mention all of the FP
speaking devices being carried by passengers furiously exchanging
messages as they move throughout the airport.

Our message eventually hits one of these devices with a wired or
otherwise unmetered Internet connection where it hits a gateway which
converts the message to a tweet, an email, a facebook entry, whatever.

So how do we get return messages or even ACK packets (receipt
verifications) back? Are ACKs even necessary? Probably not. Certainly
not at the low level. Let the receiver reply to the message in their
higher level protocol if they want to ACK it. This is like UDP.

Say our contact (be it a person, a website, a twitter account, whatever)
in the Free World receives our message, does whatever needs to be done
with it, and wants to send us a message such as "The Good Guys are
sending in the cavalry on Monday, sit tight." Or someone could
theoretically subscribe to a twitter feed via a gateway and have all
tweets with a certain hash tag packaged up and sent to them. 

Their return address would have to be an approximate lat/long where they
expect to be able to pick up the message. They may even choose a very
specific lat/long which is nearby where they expect to be able to pick
up the message but of course never their exact location, just something
to report as their exact location when picking up messages to ensure the
message ends up on a nearby FP speaking device and is directly routed to
them first when they pass by to ensure they get their message.

The message would be routed in the direction of their return address
wherever possible. The message will either have some sort of To: address
in the application layer (like email) or it will be encrypted
specifically to them if they care about privacy. The receiving device
would receive all of the messages the sender thinks it should have and
then pick through them for specific messages addressed to them either by
name or lat/long or whatever.

Would the message from the Free World with Internet access ever arrive?
Getting to a place with a wired net connection is a lot easier than
getting from such a place to a specific area or town such that one might
have a chance to pick up the message. What is the range of the typical
wifi? Indoors or with various sorts of obstructions let's say 35m. A
typical freeway has a lane width of 4m. So anyone within 8 traffic lanes
(a whole freeway width, in the US) is within range. That actually
creates a LOT of opportunities for message passing.  What are the
chances that a device will pass another FP capable device on the
freeway, find each other, and exchange messages? My wifi enabled mobile
phone sees many wifi access points as I go down the road. How many
people do you come within 35m of throughout the typical day? I bet it is
a lot. Especially if you live in a densely populated area or travel on a
freeway. The chances of coming into contact with another FP enabled
device depends on how many you can get out there into the world but I
don't think you would need nearly as many as there are mobile phones out
there to do some real good.

If a device has 4G of flash available and we set the average message
size even at 10k we can store a LOT of messages. Do the math. We could
store messages for such a long time that their chances of being
delivered eventually actually get pretty high. The speed of delivery
then becomes a function of how many FP enabled devices are out there.

Why would anyone who isn't a revolutionary run this on their phone or in
a fixed place device?

You need a killer app to get everyone using it. That would also serve to
obscure any dangerous revolutionary traffic. You need some chaff to hide

Something like this could replace SMS messaging. Especially in a
confined area such as a school, an office, or a small town or congested
city area where the messages would potentially travel very quickly.
Teenagers love this sort of thing.  Create an app to run on their smart
phone. Sell very cheaply FP enabled SMS only devices. Let them spread
all over the world.  Each device generates its own key, devices can be
paired like bluetooth so you know who is who and won't suffer man in the
middle attacks where the devices transparently encrypt the messages to
each other's keys. Call it "friending". Hide all the complicated fancy
crypto stuff which would just scare people off, just claim the
communications to be "secure". Definitely avoid any certificate
authority type nonsense. Use the ssh trust model. Anyone really betting
their life on it would be obliged to understand the technology a little

So it looks like software and mobile phone apps are the best way to go
here. You could build a physical device and call it a freedom box if you
really wanted but I would create it with the intention of it being used
by kids as secure adult-proof communications devices for spreading
high school gossip. Not a boring wall-wart which nobody will buy
ensuring per unit costs remain high. But do make it small and with
ability to connect to an AC power supply so it could function like a
wall wart and possibly external antenna and be hidden somewhere. It
wouldn't even need a graphical screen necessarily. Text only LCD
displays very inexpensive compared to the fancy high rez touch sensitive
smartphone displays currently shipping. Would kids go for pure text
messaging ability and no voice, digital camera, web etc?  Who knows. But
SMS sure is popular, especially in third world countries where this is
likely to be needed. Most of SMS is just black and white text.

Most of the world can't afford a fancy phone with voice anyway.

Things to consider:

Could a bad guy build a device or abuse the protocol to suck up all of
our messages becoming a black hole preventing message delivery?

How can we make such broadcasts inconspicuous yet recognizeable? How
often should they announce so as to conserve power? Maybe only announce
while moving. Perhaps as detected by accelerometer if we aren't fancy
enough to have a GPS. Maybe announce whenever we passively listen and
hear another device. If he just came into range he was moving so he was
announcing. Some such discovery protocol needs to be worked out.

It would be nice if we could somehow track replies vs who we sent the
original message through. That way we could calculate the probability
that any one particular node consistently fails to deliver. On the other
hand, you can't have negative reputation on the Internet. You can just
fake up a new identity. Perhaps even completely unnecessary if we can
run into enough honest devices to get the message through. Maybe it
would be better to track who likely got us a reply faster. That is a
form of positive reputation which is more doable.

Just my 2 cents. :)

Tracy Reed
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