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Another vital tool that thankfully already exists is software to evade the blocks being placed on web sites like Newzbin2 in the UK, and that could become commonplace under SOPA. DeSopa is a Firefox add-on, which means that it is easy to install. Of course, having more solutions would be good, since the last thing we want is to create a monoculture in this area.

DeSopa emphasises the central importance of Firefox not just as a browser, but as a platform for web development. Without Firefox (or other open source browsers) there would always be the danger that the software house producing the code would forbid the use of add-ons that allow web blocks to be circumvented.

Encrypted email is clearly a necessity in terms of thwarting surveillance. As you might expect, there is a Firefox plug-in, called FireGPG, which lets you use encryption with Gmail among other things. The bad news is that it was discontinued over a year ago, and doesn't seem to have been picked up by anyone. Doing so would offer a relatively easy way to bring some much-needed privacy to Gmail.

Another approach would be to use Thunderbird plus Enigmail. But as this useful review of the latter points out:

the technology, while conceptually manageable in my opinion, quickly gets complicated. It's the kind of thing where you benefit from some hand-holding from your technologically sophisticated pal. Encryption is chiefly used by the expert crowd, so the documentation quickly gets technical, the options quickly go beyond most people's comprehension, and the help quickly can shift from Spartan manuals to grasping at straws on a search engine results page.

Clearly, then, there's plenty of scope for improving the state of free software for encrypted email. But that's only part of the problem. Even if mail is encrypted, it can still be blocked, as can DNS requests that seek to avoid web name censorship by routing directly with IP addresses. The best way around this would be to create an entirely parallel internet. That might sound utopian, but once again, thanks to free software, we do have the foundations to make this happen.

That's thanks to smartphones running Android. As a (mostly) open operating system, Android allows alternative approaches to be implemented, whether or not governments approve. That means an alternative routing system via a mesh network can be created:

Mesh networking (topology) is a type of networking where each node must not only capture and disseminate its own data, but also serve as a relay for other nodes, that is, it must collaborate to propagate the data in the network.

A mesh network can be designed using a flooding technique or a routing technique. When using a routing technique, the message propagates along a path, by hopping from node to node until the destination is reached. To ensure all its paths' availability, a routing network must allow for continuous connections and reconfiguration around broken or blocked paths, using self-healing algorithms. A mesh network whose nodes are all connected to each other is a fully connected network. Mesh networks can be seen as one type of ad hoc network. Mobile ad hoc networks (MANET) and mesh networks are therefore closely related, but MANET also have to deal with the problems introduced by the mobility of the nodes.

The self-healing capability enables a routing based network to operate when one node breaks down or a connection goes bad. As a result, the network is typically quite reliable, as there is often more than one path between a source and a destination in the network. Although mostly used in wireless scenarios, this concept is also applicable to wired networks and software interaction.

As the Wikipedia entry from which the above was taken indicates, this is already an active area of research, some of it open source, which means that it won't be necessary to create such a system from scratch.

It's certainly a hugely challenging project, not least because there are important issues to do with whether mesh elements can be trusted, but that's not a bad thing. After all, open source thrives on challenges – in some senses it lies at the heart of hacking. What better way to satisfy that hunger for a worthwhile problem to solve than to combine it with helping to preserve openness and freedom – and what better way to spend 2012?

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and on Google+. For other feature articles by Glyn Moody, please see the archive.

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