Dan Phiffer
Since 2006
Works in Brooklyn, New York United States of America


Occupy.here: A tiny, self-contained darknet


Ed. — Occupy.here was supported by Rhizome as part of its 2012 Commissions program, and also received a commission from Triple Canopy in 2013. The project's new website launched yesterday.

Regardless of your feelings about Occupy Wall Street, we can all agree that its genesis was unlikely, to say the least. It appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, in New York's Financial District (of all places). And it continued to exist only because of a lucky break: basing the protests in Zuccotti Park, formerly Liberty Plaza Park, was a fallback plan, following a failed attempt to protest in front of the New York Stock Exchange. It was the unusual rules for Zuccotti—as a Privately Owned Public Space (POPS), it is not bound by the normal city parks curfew, and is required by charter to stay open 24 hours a day—that enabled the encampments to get a foothold. This may have been a lucky break, but one that was earned through years of organizing, cultivating the expertise and tools and networks that allow a movement to grow and sustain itself.  

Occupy.here began two years ago as an experiment for the encampment at Zuccotti Park. It was a wifi router hacked to run OpenWrt Linux (an operating system mostly used for computer networking) and a small "captive portal" website. When users joined the wifi network and attempted to load any URL, they were redirected to http://occupy.here. The web software offered up a simple BBS-style message board providing its users with a space to share messages and files.



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DISCUSSION

Occupy.here: A tiny, self-contained darknet


The approach I've been taking with Occupy.here is to rely on plain 2.4 Ghz wifi and build data federation into the application layer instead of the network protocol. Mainly this is to avoid, for example, asking that somebody install a specific distribution of Linux or to recompile their phone's kernel, which is asking a lot of a participant. Surely this kind of setup is well worth it in many situations, but the model I'm working with is more about meeting people where they are, technologically. Hopefully this can build up a larger base of users from the beginning.

Until recently the data sharing has been limited to something I built in JavaScript called Many Copies. When a user connects to a Occupy.here message board, their web browser makes a copy of all the content. Then when they visit another message board, their browser copies all that content onto the second one. It's kind of a wireless sneakernet, entirely powered by people physically walking between locations.

I've also been thinking recently about a new way to hook up two remote Occupy.here routers, relying on virtual tunnels over the internet. I'm still working out the details of it, but the main goals are that it be secure (using GnuPG for encryption), that it minimizes observable metadata, and is very easy to set up and operate.

DISCUSSION

Occupy.here: A tiny, self-contained darknet


Hey, thanks for the links! I'm only a little bit familiar with Project Byzantium, and with mesh networking in general. I am curious about whether people use mesh networks differently from the regular internet. Or is it just a way to inexpensively connect people who use it similarly to how they'd normally use the internet?

DISCUSSION

A Letter to Jennifer Knoll


Steganography, even.

DISCUSSION

A Letter to Jennifer Knoll


I'm curious how the stenography works...

DISCUSSION

My Broken iPhone


Oh you can find plenty of vulgarity in Apple stuff. Think iLife presets, like the little song that would play by default with iPhoto slideshows. iWeb templates, iDVD menus, or Mail.app templates. Or the schlocky video effects that replaced the formerly pragmatic toolkit in Final Cut Pro X. This doesn't contradict your point. One gets the sense in these condescending flourishes that users are understood to be the vulgar ones.