Watching the twitterstorm around the current situation with the Iranian elections has been fairly thought provoking. The Iranian protesters are completely shut out of the official media in the form of newspapers, radio, and television in Iran. These are under the thumb of the state at the service of a man that may (or may not) have stolen an election for himself. The only viable option is the use of the net and other direct media communication, such as SMS. Of course, the state can block access to net resources and has turned off the cell networks at various points. Like the situation in China at times, people have found ways around these blockages to continue to report and communicate with each other.
Going back to my day job here at the Mozilla Corporation, I wonder what role, if any, we, the Mozilla community, can play in enabling freedom and openness. We aren’t specifically political as a group in the sense that we have no vested interest in battling specific governments. In fact, it is often in our best interest to be and be seen as neutral in such things. That said, we are also interested in an open Internet and an open Internet, by its very nature, has a political component because it is the antithesis of the state controlled firewalls and mechanisms of control that various authoritarian regimes like to put into place.
To the end of promoting an open Internet, is there more that Mozilla could do with software to help enable that process? Opera Unite has gotten some press during the last few days for facilitating the direct sharing of information over the net, though it reminds me of the defunct AllPeers software that went away last year. I have friends that work on the Tor Project, which has the explicit goal of allowing anonymous communication between people. Tor actually targets itself to helping dissidents, bloggers, and others that need to route around state blocking and tracking.
What kind of tools could Mozilla incorporate into Firefox, for example, with its more than 100 million users, that could help people in the future? I’ve advocated for Mozilla to support the Tor Project before (which didn’t really get beyond getting more Firefox bugs fixed). I’d like to see us help create the next generation of tools or even support and build in the next generation for anonymous communication, networking, encryption and other mechanisms. I’ve pointed out before how painful it is to send and receive encrypted e-mail within Thunderbird (or through webmail services like gmail) even though it has become clear that governments routinely snoop on e-mail (even the American NSA) well beyond what people have suspected.
One of the reasons that I work at MoCo is that we aren’t driven by a profit motive, being owned by a non-profit, and have an idea of social good built into what we do. I’d like to see how that could be explicitly expanded. I’d love to hear suggestions as I have only the most basic of ideas (such as making encryption for communication easier or transparent or adding jabber support into the Mozilla platform) and I’m sure others have far better thought out ideas.
Of course, I could be out to lunch and most people don’t care about such things. I somehow doubt if this is true though.
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