Satellites As A Free Speech Tool

Submitted by Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

SputnikWith many reports becoming all to familiar with state sponsored censorship of internet traffic users in these nations are engaged in a cat and mouse game with a government that is showing increasing levels of sophistication and legislative muscle. The tactics often used include filtering objectionable material, firewalling targeted IP addresses, tracing data back to individuals and sanctioning those individuals, and creating a system of fear generally in which the public is dissuaded into engaging in free speech.

The common element in these electronic censorship measures is that the government controls access via the physical structure of the network. They are able to do this through land based infrastructure. But what if these physical vulnerabilities to free speech and press were removed and instead replaced with broadcast satellite systems that are immune from filtering and geo-locating individuals?

Recent reports in Turkey show the length politicians in government are willing to go to stifle opposition and dissent. According to an article in Deutsche Welle the Turkish government is set to enact stringent controls on internet websites by requiring the official Turkish internet regulator to block certain sites the government objects to without a warrant and to require Internet Service Providers to retain access and content information generated by users. The law also would target individuals for arrest for violation of these censorship laws. The rules come up at a time when there have been large street protests in major cities and a growing number of dissenters who have used social networking and private internet sites to organize and voice opposition. China is world famous, along with other nations, in restricting access and tracing individuals for punishment.

Without bogging down the reader with the details and mechanics of internet transmission protocols, the basic format to how governments can track and block data is because the nature on how most traffic is conveyed. Computer-1 wishes to send data to Computer-2 through the network. Computer-1 breaks the message by dividing it into individual packets each having the source and destination addresses for the two some overhead and a piece of the message. The network then routes these packets through various “hops” such as routers, switches, gateways etc. Each packet can take a different path due to traffic efficiencies where the hops then direct the packet closer and closer to the Computer-2. The packets are then assembled by Conputer-2 and the message is received.

Due to various aspects of this system, the eavesdropper or censor will know a piece of the information due to the packet containing source and destination of the packet (Computers 1 and 2) The government does not necessarily have to have a monitor on every computer to know who is talking to whom but just needs to monitor a few common gateways that packets can pass through. The government can then hone in to a hop next to the offending user and then watch everything that their computer sends or receives and can then eavesdrop on what is being sent.

There is a possible workaround to this eavesdropping and censorship inherent in Satellite Hosted Internet. Satellites can be configured for broadcast transmission using radio waves rather than copper or fiber wires. While there are systems where a satellite transmits to an intermediary ground station which then relays traffic to users it is not fully necessary, though it is more efficient. Satellite Internet is much more expensive than traditional consumer internet and there is latency problems (time delay) for certain applications. But protocols can be designed and used by transponders to provide an ad-hoc system that is nearly untraceable.

Printing PressesMany systems can be designed but for simple illustrative purposes a system can be architected where the user’s computer generates a large random number, one that is nearly impossible to have been duplicated by another user in that time, that is used as its address for purposes of sending and receiving data. The satellite system would then relay it to a ground station in a friendly and open country that would then proxy the user’s random number into an IP address that the regular internet can use to route the transaction. When the data is then sent back to the user, the user’s satellite equipment listens for that random number and when received passes the message to the computer. The random number would have a short period for which it is used after which it is then discarded and a new one generated to prevent tracing. The user can also take advantage of very strong encryption available to prevent eavesdropping. While agencies such as the NSA have shown ability to break this, ordinary users cannot. The scope of this is not, however, about encryption technology and breakage by governments but censorship and tracing.

The satellite system would be largely immune from censorship in the internet sense because there is no intermediary hop between the user and the satellite itself. There are two ways the government can attempt to thwart this would be to jam the radio signal, which would have other problems associated with it such as geopolitical politics and interference with other satellite communications, or attacks on the end users such as in one case the government of Iran targeting individuals who have constructed satellite receivers.

But it could be a good discussion for various civil libertarians and the internet community as a whole to craft and fund as a grass roots effort to provide the freedom of speech that many in other nations are not given.


Deutsche Welle
Photo: Versetzmuseum, Amsterdam

By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

12 thoughts on “Satellites As A Free Speech Tool”

  1. Bureaucracy: The FCC jumped the shark with its outrageous plan to police America’s newsrooms. This grasp for a new mission signals an agency that has outlived its purpose. We have a better idea: Just scrap the FCC.

    There’s nothing worse than a federal agency that has lost its original mission, has nothing productive to do and, as a result, is restlessly rustling around for something to justify its existence.

    That describes the Federal Communications Commission, an old-line agency founded in the 1930s to regulate a limited supply of television airwaves divided among three networks, which is now gone with the wind.

    Today, television airwaves are virtually unlimited and consumers can flip through thousands of channels to find the news and entertainment they want. Besides the explosion of television choices, consumers also have the Internet, providing billions of options in a nanosecond for information on anything consumers want.

    Its mission gone, the FCC is rapidly getting into mischief. It claims its mission is to lower barriers to new entry for all citizens, giving itself a civil rights patina, but its record shows a long history of erecting barriers.

    Every major innovation in communication has had to scale obstacles thrown out by the FCC in an attempt to stop freedom’s progress.

    It’s a positively medieval barricade impulse that led the FCC to try to stop the arrival of cable television in the 1970s, while on the Internet it’s still hatching plan after plan to impose “net neutrality” on Internet providers, price controls that dictate how much providers can charge different kinds of customers.

    The move to police the newsrooms is an effort to bring back the now-defunct “Fairness Doctrine,” which forces station managers to air unpopular views outside the wishes of both owners and viewers.

    Fact is, whenever there is an innovation in communication, the FCC can be counted on to try to shut it down or make it unprofitable. That record has now led to our present point: the FCC’s assault on free speech itself.

    Under the banner of minority representation, FCC’s plan to police America’s newsrooms was to dispatch politically connected contractors from a company called Social Solutions International to conduct a “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs.”

    They would interrogate America’s editors and reporters in TV, radio and even newspapers about how they decide which stories to report, all to find bias in need of a government remedy.

    The FCC insists the study is just a quest for information to be given on a “voluntary” basis, but with its power to issue licenses swaying over the heads of editors and reporters, it’s anything but voluntary.

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  2. AY, cubesats are cheap. They are a few centimeters on a side and many of them can be launched at once. Being so small, they would be hard to bring down in numbers, given a massively redundant network of them.

    Cubesats are already in orbit. The NSA has driven demand for them and any other communications method that does not require an internet service provider, which have become the hubs of Hell.

  3. I wonder if a private financier could provide the funds to put up a impenetrable communications system…. Not subject to tracking data processed and files encrypted such as a virtual ghost…..

    Interesting Darren…

  4. But what if these physical vulnerabilities to free speech and press were removed and instead replaced with broadcast satellite systems that are immune from filtering and geo-locating individuals?” – Darren

    The more the merrier.

    a la pirate radio.

  5. We see in both Russia and Ukraine a profound lack of freedom of speech. Dissidents are beaten and jailed. Recently we saw a group of female singers jailed for two years in Russia, then beaten when they made appearances in Sochi. And in Ukraine, we just saw the release of a female opposition leader who had been jailed for two years. She spoke from a wheel chair to the crowd of rebels gathered in downtown Kiev. There is reason to believe that in addition to free speech being taken away for political reasons by jailing these people, their governments also invaded their privacy, the privacy of their personal communication, not in the public, but among themselves and other dissidents.

    What we are talking about here is the potential for the NSA to invade our privacy of speech, not our freedom of speech. The methods chosen to monitor our communications disclosed so far from the Snowden incident do not include the monitoring of our speech, but the choice we make as to whom we communicate. But until that FISA court OK’s actual monitoring, only who we contact is being monitored. If we can trust the FISA court, both our freedom of speech and our right to speak privately are protected. The POTUS has indicated his willingness to strengthen the FISA court system.

    So I ask “what more do we need?”

  6. Satelites are still underused though it doesn’t look like it when you see space junk maps. Its a pity our cell phones were not all satelite phones, hugely used and by now much cheaper without huge jumps in price when roaming or abroad. The big worry could be an international effort to restrict anything in orbit this side of the moon or an all out war on an enemy’s satelite. Right now this anarchy of nations called planet Earth murders its own or another country’s citizens. I don’t know when was the last day when there was no war, civil, international or undeclared somewhere in the world. Still, even most of the developed nations are not about to develop into maturity right now, so we do what we can for a little more freedom, always aware, I hope, that that means more responsibility too.

  7. A corporation would have to develop it and put it into space and the nSA would demand a peephole to make sure it could track everyone at all times. It’s a great idea, but until there is a real break between corporation and govt, it’s only a dream. Corporatism, or fascism if you prefer, will not allow free expression without tracking for profit and tracking for ‘terrorism’.

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