The word overnet is short for overlay network. An overlay network is a collection of nodes that communicate over some other, pre-existing substrate network. For example, the Internet was once an overlay network where the pre-existing substrate was the telephone network. The early development of the Internet would not have been possible without the ability of users to connect devices such as modems to the telephone network and to interconnect with others free from interference by the telephone companies. Arising partly from its historically adversarial relationship with the telephone monopolies, the Internet embodies an end-to-end principle of system design where new applications can be deployed without modifying or even getting permission from nodes in the middle of the network. The devices that the Internet joins together are general-purpose computers that are open and programmable by their owners. The ability of any user to set up a server and begin speaking to a wide audience, along with the erstwhile observation that the Internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it, once held great promise to advance the cause of freedom and human rights around the world.
Unfortunately, this promise has not been completely fulfilled. The Internet architecture has ossified and control points have been introduced that raise hurdles to free and open communication. Architectures for voice and video services are increasingly placing application-specific signaling nodes in carrier networks, allowing them to limit which applications get quality-of-service. Intermediaries known as firewalls have been deployed by end users, corporations, and governments. While sometimes motivated by a desire to protect insecure systems from malicious parties, firewalls make it harder to deploy certain classes of applications and at worst are tools of government-sponsored censorship. The basic naming and addressing infrastructure of the Internet can be used to track down the real-world identities of political dissidents, especially when service providers cooperate with authorities.
The institutions that currently govern the Internet lack the political will to challenge these injustices. Indeed, as the service providers become increasingly one and the same companies that own the physical infrastructure over which the Internet operates, they are increasingly subject to the same forces that led to the establishment of national telephone monopolies. We expect that nation states will continue to press for more and more control over the operation of the network through organizations such as the United Nations sponsored International Telecommunication Union.
Fortunately, there is now ample opportunity to build a new class of overnets with governance models that will serve the interests of individual users rather than those of nation states or corporations. While imperfect, the current Internet has many properties that make it one possible substrate for these overnets. The Free Overnet Foundation is established to call attention to these properties and to educate the public on their importance, lest they disappear. In addition, the Foundation will enumerate and advocate a set of fundamental human rights that are prerequisite to the emergence of a truly free overnet architecture. These include:
- The right to own general-purpose computers that are completely user-programmable.
- The right to freely connect a computer to others without unnecessary intermediaries.
- The right to carry computers and associated data storage devices wherever desired without inspection of the contents.
- The right to associate with others, including the right of non-association with persons known to send unwanted traffic.
- The right to keep associations private.
- The right to make use of transmission facilities in public rights-of-way on common carrier terms.
- The right to use strong cryptography.
- The right to privacy in financial transactions, including the right to keep and bear gold in any desired form.
- The right to trial by a jury of one’s peers, and the right of juries to invoke jury nullification.
In furtherance of its mission to inform and educate the public, the Foundation will sponsor programs that promote the responsible exercise of the above rights. In particular, the Foundation will create and maintain an overnet that links together like-minded individuals under a common Acceptable Usage Policy (AUP). Creation of software that instantiates the overnet and development of the AUP are early objectives of the Foundation. In all of its activities, the Foundation will strive to promote principles of non-violent conflict resolution and resistance to oppression.