Christian Huitema's blog

Cloudy sky, waves on the sea, the sun is

A Server in Every Home

27 Jul 2013

Our representatives just voted down the amendment do defund the NSA domestic monitoring program. The good news is that 205 representatives had the courage to vote "Yes" but the leaders of both democrats and republicans supported the NSA. What that means is clear: the spying will continue. We can expect the "intelligence establishment" to push for ever more powers. In the 90's, they were using pedophiles as the scarecrow that justified controlling encryption. After 2001, they are using the specter of Bin Laden. Something else will come up, to justify ever greater powers, ever more monitoring. There will always be more billions of dollars to buy big computer centers, and whatever new equipment becomes fashionable. The "intelligence industry complex" will feats on that, and of course, a fraction of that budget will be used to lobby congress and justify more spending and more intrusions.

This move to total surveillance is also a byproduct of "The Cloud." In the last decade, we saw the Internet move towards centralization. Where we initially had a web of small servers interconnected by hyperlinks, we now have a very small number of big computer centers managing services for millions of users. Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and a few smaller players centralize much of the activity. They perform their own "monitoring" of our electronic communications, so they can better "serve advertisements." Each web page now comes equipped with a variety of trackers, Google reads the content of each message sent to Gmail, and Facebook can analyze our posts. No wonder that the spooks became jealous, and wished they had the same information. Such big repositories are just too tempting. The intelligence lobbies will get it, even if that means creating new laws and secret courts. For the intelligence service, the cloud is just transparent.

The obvious conclusion is that we cannot have big centralized servers and privacy. If we care about privacy, we must get away from "the cloud." The cloud companies will provide our data to whoever asks with a proper court order, and the orders from the secret court will specify that they should not tell us. The only way around that is to run our own servers, in our own houses. If we want a really decentralized Internet, we need A Server in Every Home!

Of course, there are reasons why people don't run their own servers today. Drew Crawford posted a guide on running your own mail server: NSA-proof your e-mail in 2 hours. This is very well done, but it does involve configuring a Linux server and setting up a number of programs. If we want to get a server in every house, we need to be better than that. The server has to be dead simple to deploy and run. The development team of the Windows Home Server at Microsoft spent a lot of time dealing with these issues, make it as simple as possible. We know that there is basic software available, we understand the concept, and we understand the usability requirements. It will probably require a year or so of work by a dedicated team to assemble an "easy to use" appliance and work out the kinks, but it is doable. We can come to a point were servers can indeed be deployed in every home. Maybe there is hope after all.