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U.s. Promotes Network to Foil Digital Spying

Wireless routers attached to rooftops in Sayada, Tunisia, form a local network the developers say is more secure than the Internet.

Sayada, Tunisia has become a test bed for a local network that is physically independent of the Internet.

Credit: Samuel Aranda/The New York Times

A group of academics and computer enthusiasts have used $2.8 million from the U.S. State Department to help the Tunisian town of Sayada become a test site for a local network that is physically independent from the Internet and comprised of antennas scattered about on rooftops. This mesh network is designed so dissidents abroad can communicate without fear of surveillance.

The mesh software is a redesign of systems that experts across Europe have been running for years, says the New America Foundation's Sascha Meinrath. Inexpensive wireless routers are affixed to rooftops, tied to balconies, and screwed to the ledges of apartment buildings. Provided each router has an unhindered view of one or two others and the mesh software has been set up, the routers automatically form a mesh network, says New American Foundation analyst Ryan Gerety. The routers also can supply access to anyone with a wireless device in range.

The Radio Free Asia nonprofit has contributed $1 million to investigate multiple overseas mesh network deployments.

Meanwhile, Harvard University professor Jonathan Zittrain says the proven resiliency of mesh networks could be their biggest selling point, with privacy being a bonus.

From The New York Times
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