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18 February 2011, 09:32

Eben Moglen promotes Freedom in a box - Update

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In a recent interview with The H, Eben Moglen professor of law and legal history at Columbia University, and the founder, Director-Counsel and Chairman of the Software Freedom Law Center, spoke about his ideas for using simple hardware to free individuals from the tyranny of the client/server model imposed by current web services. It seems his ideas may be on the way to becoming reality in the form of the FreedomBox.

The FreedomBox is described by Moglen as a cheap, low-power, plug-top server running a Debian-Linux-based platform. Small plug-top servers such as the Pogoplug ($99 / £99) or the TonidoPlug ($99) are already on the market and as Moglen told the New York Times “They will get very cheap, very quick, ... Once everyone is getting them, they will cost $29.”

At present, Moglen is focussing on the software, since he sees the hardware as already being in existence in one form or another, and it's the software components that are needed to make FreedomBox a working product.

Currently, centralised web services gather huge amounts of personal data on their users, making that data vulnerable to theft, political manipulation and demographic analysis. The advent of cloud computing compounds the problem even further and users are faced with another trade off between privacy/security and convenience. Many thousands of decentralised encrypted servers could perhaps return control of private data to the individual.

Moglen has set up the FreedomBox Foundation a non-profit organisation to help coordinate development efforts. According to the NY Times Mr. Moglen said that if he could raise “slightly north of $500,000”, Freedom Box 1.0 would be ready in one year.

Update – The FreedomBox project has now appeared on the fund-raising site Kickstarter with the aim of raising $60,000 in 30 days (by 19 March). At the time of writing, 444 backers have pledged $43,150. A range of incentives or rewards are on offer depending on the size of an individual pledge. The Foundation says that if it can meet its current funding goal, it can begin working full time, building road maps for the core components, and putting together a series of conferences/hack days "to pull the community together". Once the funds have been raised, the project hopes to have a 0.1 version of the software available "six months later".

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