Dictator-Proofing the Internet

Article excerpt

Byline: Daniel Lyons

When authorities in Egypt shut down Internet connections during last week's uprising, hackers around the world started scrambling to create a work-around. Before they could succeed, the blackout was lifted. But now people are worried that similar shutdowns might occur in countries like Jordan, Syria, and Yemen--and so hackers are working to set up alternative networks in those countries, just in case.

"In Egypt we were totally reactive. But we need to be preemptive, to provide tools to people before they go dark," says Dan Meredith, a 28-year-old software developer and self-described "technivist" (technology activist) who works for a group called the Open Technology Initiative, which is run by the New America Foundation, a left-leaning public-policy institute in Washington, D.C.

Meredith's group has developed a software program that can turn regular laptops into nodes on a "mesh network," all able to communicate with each other. The software can also run on the little Wi-Fi routers that you use to make a home network. …