Originally published in Spanish in 2015-08-16, and in English on the Pervasive Labor Union zine.
Five years have passed since Eben Moglen, even before Assange, Manning and Snowden, talked about freedom in the cloud and how surveillance was embedded into the Internet, and more specifically into a client-server protocol called HTTP that’s the base for the Web.
The Web isn’t decentralized, but a network architecture where some have information, in the form of web pages, and others have access to it by downloading them. This relationship is always asymmetrical. The person on the consuming side is able to share information, but she doesn’t run the application. Client and server aren’t equal when only the latter can determine what can and cannot be done in that communication.
In that talk, Moglen was very clear about the goals we had to fulfil in order to achieve freedom in the Net. One of them was to have the servers in our homes. We’ve had enough with delegating those conversations to impersonal, corporative, third parties.
He was also very clear in something else, which was quickly forgotten because we’re not only moglenian anarchists but also silicon libertarians.
What he said was that the software we need in our homes already existed. The software that runs email and web servers, the software that builds free, distributed and resilient networks already exists. Things that have been working for 40 years and won’t go down even when you try to kick the shit out of them.
But 5 years have passed and every day there’s a new project trying to reinvent this revolutionary indestructibility over that protocol that’s the opposite of everything: HTTP.
While others promised email at home, but started by reinventing webmail, at LibreVPN1 we made a more modest effort by taking the already existing email software called postfix, and configuring it to send email between machines in the same network and also to Internet, delegating the latter capability to a dumb third party.
This means that while using a machine called ‘urras’, logged in as ‘shevek’, you can write to ‘takver’ on the machine called ‘anarres’ and that email will travel from ‘urras’ to ‘anarres’ without intermediaries. In e-email jargon, this is expressed as ‘shevek@urras’ sending a message to ‘takver@anarres’.
The protocol that runs e-mail, SMTP, was designed 30 years ago for writing messages from machine to machine and we just needed 3 changes on a configuration file, plus a transport wire without intermediaries watching and blocking.
But who can take away the crowdfunding and the experience of reinventing the wheel, uh?