I attended SneakerCon at the Brown Institute for Media Innovation the past two days. The conference was about examining systems of information exchange that bypass the internet. Much of the discussion was about the use of offline networks in the practice of journalism, whether to avoid censorship, to keep sources safe, or other reasons. The discussions ranged beyond the borders of journalism, and I came away with many new ideas. Here are a few of the people, organizations, and links from my notes. My notes are very incomplete, and I’m putting up very little about the conference’s proceedings, as some of it was material that participants did not wish to have recorded. Hopefully the links below will provide useful resources, at least:
The Guardian Project “creates easy to use secure apps, open-source software libraries, and customized mobile devices that can be used around the world by any person looking to protect their communications and personal data from unjust intrusion, interception and monitoring.” Their work also highlights the dynamics of network communication that are often invisible to end users. It’s valuable stuff for anyone wanting to learn more about the flow of information from your devices through the networks to which they connect to the companies, governments, and other organizations on those networks. Nathan Freitas and Hans Steiner of the Guardian Project gave the keynotes. I wasn’t able to stay for Hans’ closing talk, but Nathan’s opening talk on “windy networks”, considering the flow of information online and offline as “windy”, was useful for rethinking the dynamics of network communications.
Briar Project -“Briar is a messaging app designed for activists, journalists, and anyone else who needs a safe, easy and robust way to communicate. Unlike traditional messaging apps, Briar doesn’t rely on a central server – messages are synchronized directly between the users’ devices.”
Dan Phiffer talked about occupy.here, a decentralized collection of affiliated local networks that began with his work during Occupy Wall St. In the same panel, Zach Mandeville introduced Scuttlebutt, a protocol for decentralized replication, sharing, and chat. Data in Scuttlebutt is replicated device-to-device the devices running the protocol’s apps contact each other. Patchwork and Patchbay are example apps.
Viento Methods – Carrie Winfrey gave a great presentation on these design methods, developed by okthanks and the Guardian Project, to help developers and designers build mobile applications that work better offline, and manage the transition from online to offline better.
Hans Steiner told me about Nitrokey. It’s is a USB device used to generate encryption keys. It’s similar to Yubikey. Nitrokey uses open source software, and apparently, hardware (caveat that I didn’t yet look for their design files. I’m a fan of Yubikey, and am eager to try both of these.
Harlo Holmes of the Freedom of the Press Foundation talked about SecureDrop and how it works, and introduced me to two Debian-based secure operating systems I was unaware of, Qubes and Tails. She also gave one of the best quotes of the conference for me:
“”We still have not, and I don’t think we’re ever going to solve digitally, the problem of trust.”
Toosheh “allowed Iranian end users to access web content such as documentaries, news, technology, mobile applications and computer software, music and entertainment videos, with high speed and at no cost.” It does so by encoding the content in the MPEG stream of a satellite TV signal. which can then be extracted using their app.
Dia Kayyali gave an update on some of the work that witness.org, one of my favorite NGOs, has been doing. Witness helps journalists, activists, human rights workers, and others “to use video and technology to protect and defend human rights” by sharing tools, tactics, and resources. They focus on video as evidence, as archiving, and as a tool for communication about abuses of human rights around the world.
Eleanor Saitta of dymaxion,org did a great job summarizing the conference panels. I was particularly impressed by Eleanor’s ability to draw out relevant issues that ran through each morning or afternoon’s sessions succinctly and clearly.
There are many individuals and links I missed in my notes, apologies to those I missed. Hopefully the conference website will capture more of everyone’s links. Thanks to the Brown Institute for an excellent conference.