“Internet” Without Infrastructure – Part 4, by R.H.

Protocol Refinements

There are many refinements that can be used to improve efficiency and reduce the number of files to be processed, when dealing with local communication. However, these must always remain discretionary, so that they can be dropped at any time if situations change, or they are found to be unworkable.

For example, directories (or folders) can be used to separate messages into different destination areas, organized by State. This reduces anonymity somewhat, but it can help organize messages and keep traffic down within local areas. If you know for certain that the recipient is in California, create a folder called California and put the message in there. If you know the zip code, it can be added within the California folder. Even when there are state and zip code folders, messages will still exist in the main folder, outside of any state folders, and messages will exist within the state folders, outside of any particular zip code folder. Another level can exist within the zip code folder for a well-defined and understood community. Less precise regions, such as counties and cities, could possibly be used, but these are open to ambiguities and are less likely to be known for certain.

When working within a local network, a Postmaster could use both a local pouch and a master pouch. The local pouch would contain all messages from the main directory, state directory, zip code directory, and community directory, but all other directories would be missing. This makes the pouch easier to work with. To send a message within the local community, it is put into the community folder. To send a message outside of the local community but within the state, the message goes in the state folder. New state and zip code folders are added to the local pouch as needed for outgoing messages.

Later, the Postmaster combines the local pouch into the national pouch. The community folder, however, is not transferred to the national pouch; it is retained on the local pouch. The local pouch is temporary and must be recreated whenever updates are received for the national pouch. This is done by saving the community folder, creating a new local pouch from the main, state, and zip code folders from the master pouch, and then adding the community folder back in.

With care, similar protocols could be used and developed at the zip code and state levels, but this also opens the system up to misuse of various sorts. It would be a very bad idea for people to start getting the idea that a state or even a zip code is “under the control of” one particular entity. It would be much better to have several different people independently managing the same regions simultaneously. This network is about freedom and anonymity, not “guarantees” (which somehow never seem to work out very well anyway).

Another use for region descriptions, similar to what is described above, would be for Postmasters, or really anyone for that matter, to include nationwide, state, or regional news and network status in a message that is not to anyone in particular. For example, a message with a filename of “California-94302-2017-06-03-PO45UR” might say “Mostly quiet here this week. There were some large explosions some 50 miles to the north, but we don’t know exactly where. The usual sporadic gunfire, of course. People are catching on to using the Sneakernet and sending out lots of messages, but only a few people have received messages from outside of the community so far. Joe the Postmaster”. This sort of message, or news, is not really a change in the protocol, except for the standardized use of the state, zip code, and date. It follows the general rule that the message starts with a “destination”, but it’s not necessarily a real destination. It’s actually more like a blog entry. Note that the date is in the format YYYY-MM-DD. This is important because it allows the news files for a particular area to be easily sorted by date. Also, dashes are used to make it more readable. This is acceptable, because anonymity is not important in this case. This type of file could serve several purposes:

  • It gives the Postmaster an idea of what geographical areas and time periods are covered by this particular pouch.
  • It gives the Postmaster vital information about the network in general.
  • It provides general news to people who are interested in that particular region, or in general, even if they have not received messages from anyone in particular.
  • It provides people with a way to broadcast news in their area, even if they don’t have anyone in particular to whom they want to report it.
  • It could greatly increase interest in and use of the network, especially initially or before they have received specific messages from friends or family.

This also brings up some interesting ethical and moral points. I am personally against censorship by Postmasters. However, what should a Postmaster do if he sees that someone in his area has posted a particularly alarming and blatantly false report? He might choose to delete it to stop it from going further, but this is censorship, plain and simple. Who is the Postmaster to say that the report is false? Maybe it really is true, but he just doesn’t believe it. Also, if the report has already gone to other Postmasters, deleting it may not have any real effect; the message may reappear from another pouch and continue to spread. This network is almost impossible to censor! A more effective choice would be add his own separate message, explaining his opinion or observations on the matter. The filename of his message would be the same as the filename of the original message but with some additional characters added to the end of it. For example:

Kansas-64113-2017-02-03-YRET87f “Hundreds of murders daily! Help! – Bill Smith”

Kansas-64113-2017-02-03-YRET87fXX “Hundreds of murders is an exaggeration. I know of only two last night. – Sam Jones”

Kansas-64113-2017-02-03-YRET87fXYY “I agree with Sam. A couple last night, but none for a week before that – Becky Holt”

Notice that it’s almost like a blog. You can add comments to another’s post by choosing the address carefully. However, it is completely unmoderated, and it’s not really possible to delete an entry once posted, so the reader has to decide for himself. This brings us back to the fact that if you want reliable information, you need an encrypted or “signed” message from a particular person you know and trust.

Emergency Services

Whenever there is a natural disaster or terrorist attack, you see pictures on the news of those bulletin boards and lists that people (or FEMA) set up to help loved ones find each other or discover who has survived, who has not, or who is missing. Add a network like this to the mix, and those systems could be far more effective. In this case, email addresses or even a person’s name and other information could be used (e.g. “SmithJoeRutheford, Address:87PleasantAve,NewOrleans”). Even though the normal use of the “destination address” is the destination of the message, it doesn’t have to be. If an emergency worker finds a body with identification, they could simply post a message with a “destination address” of the person’s name and any known information. Anyone looking for the person would have a chance of discovering them. If the disaster is local to some area such as with a hurricane or large terrorist attack, once the messages make it outside of the affected area the messages can be posted on the Internet or even emailed directly to the destination (if an email address was used). Once the message is on the Internet, or in an unaffected area, it becomes much easier to search for information within the pouches.

Ham radio is already a vital force in situations like these. With the addition of a network that allowed Hams to send and receive information to and from people without radios, or who are out of reach by radio, they could be even more effective. With “Packet radio”, which makes it possible to send digital information directly over Ham radio, it is possible that some messages could be relayed directly. This technology already has the capability of bridging directly into regular email, opening up all sorts of possibilities. In spite of restrictions about sending encrypted communications over Ham radio bands, there is much that could be done. If nothing else, the activities and policies of Postmasters could be coordinated and some important messages could be relayed. Network messages can be sent between radio operators and relayed by voice. Radio “call signs” are unique identifiers for specific operators and are already used in email addresses to supplement radio communication.

Other data transfer methods

Any time another network or method of transferring data is available, it can be used in conjunction with this one. Until TEOTWAWKI, mail pouches could be stored in DropBox or a similar service. As long as some sort of postal service is available, a pouch can simply be mailed from one Postmaster to another.

If the Internet, or some form of it, is available in some area, pouches can be passed through it. Anonymity is still mostly retained, especially for encrypted messages. It is possible that, even with the Internet down, some communities could set up Broadband Hamnet networks, which use regular routers with special antennas to connect computers that can be miles apart. Although these networks will not necessarily be able to connect to the Internet, they could certainly be used to transfer files between Postmasters.

If the Internet outage is just local, it might make sense to automatically forward any messages that are using email addresses directly on to an email server. This could certainly be overdone, resulting in spam, but when a pouch of messages makes its way outside of a disaster area to a place where regular email is available, it would be sensible to take advantage of the opportunity to get messages onto normal channels. Mail pouches could also be posted on a website, where they can be downloaded by people who want to search for missing people, find messages intended for them, or read any news they may find there.

It may sound funny, but carrier pigeons have actually been used to carry electronic devices larger than micro SD cards. Micro SD cards and USB keys are so small and light that they can easily travel (undetected if needed) on all sorts of vehicles, including cars, boats, trains, or balloons. Once the Postmaster system is generally known, any pouch that is found by almost anyone can end up back on the network. When I was a kid, I launched an 8-foot diameter tissue paper hot air balloon with a postcard attached. It came back to me from 40 miles away!

Any group of people who don’t have working computers can still write out their messages on slips of paper with the destination address on top and their message below (including a return address) and just pass them on to a Postmaster willing to enter them. Passwords could even be provided and used by the Postmaster to encrypt the message.