Sovereign Computing

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= To be the true owner of your information and of your computer's hardware resources, as well as to share these things in any way you want and only with whomever you want.



"To be the true owner of your information and of your computer's hardware resources, as well as to share these things in any way you want and only with whomever you want. To participate in the Internet free of the middleman, as an autonomous, independent and sovereign individual."


First Freedom: Own Name

You must be free to choose a name for yourself, any name.

It need not be a weird name such as "joseph underscore smith at yahoo dot com dot tee vee". It can be "Joseph Smith" with a right to spaces, capital letters, everything.

It need not be a new, exclusive name either. If I changed my name to access a system, just because someone said there already was another user registered in the system with the same name, I would not be sovereign. I would be a fool.

And it need not be a definitive name. Being sovereign, you may change it as many times as you please, of course.

I, for instance, call myself "Klaus Wuestefeld" at the moment.

Second Freedom: Nicknames

You must be free to call your friends whatever you like.

If you have a dentist called "Frederick Smith" and a cousin with the same name, you may give one of them the nickname "Dentist" and the other the nickname "Freddy".

Notice that your cousin is now "Freddy" to you, rather than "freddy smith with no space at hotmail dot com".

Your dentist's secretary becomes simply "Dentist -> Secretary", no longer "ana dot claudia 2004 at terra dot com dot bee are".

Thus we rid ourselves of the illusion that there must be one single absolute addressing scheme.

When we believe this fallacy, we are in fact adopting and submitting to a scheme invented by someone else and we are thereby abdicating our sovereignty. IP addresses such as "" and domain names such as "" are examples of that.

Do you know who commands the distribution of these addresses? If you do not, albeit in a subtle way, you are allowing someone you do not know to have dominion over you.

The same applies to an entire country, which shamefully subordinates to a foreign scheme such as this.

"Is it forbidden, then, to use IP addresses or domain names?"

Of course not. Being sovereign we may use whatever we want.

If besides "Mother -> Site" you wish to continue calling your mother's site "h tee tee pee colon slash slash double-u double-u double-u dot provider dot net slash sites slash tilde whatsername", that's OK. You will only stop being sovereign if you are incapable of using your own addressing scheme whenever you wish.

In order to be sovereign, then, you will use a RELATIVE addressing scheme, where you are the origin. "You -> Dentist -> Secretary" is an example of such a relative path stemming from you. "My uncle's sister-in-law" is another example.

(I used arrows (->) to show the path, but you may use whatever you wish, of course, or you would not be sovereign)

Einstein has shown us that even in the physical world absoluteness and objectivity are mere illusions. It is simply dawning on us that the same applies to the virtual world.

Third Freedom: Trust

You must be free to trust whoever you wish.

Anyone can be sovereign on his own, isolated on an island, but this is no fun. Things become more difficult and more interesting when you start interacting with other people.

What determines the intensity of your interactions with other people is the degree of trust you place in them.

What is the address of your bank's web site?

This address will point to whatever your Internet provider wishes. Your Internet provider can fool you, passing itself for any non-secure site on the Internet.

Conspiring with any of the "owner of the truth" companies such as Verisign or Certisign, any Internet provider in the world can pass itself for any site, of any organization, including secure sites (with little padlocks), such as your bank's site.

Alright, but why don't Internet providers do that? Why doesn't Verisign do it? Why should I trust them?

"Well, because most people trust them."

Most German people trusted Hitler and the rest is history. And the German people knew the guy. Of the cybernauts who even know the meaning of that little padlock on their browsers, only a fraction ever heard about Verisign, Certisign and band.

To be sovereign, then, you may simply stop trusting people you do not know. You can simply tell your Internet provider and the "owners of the truth" to take a hike.

Now, if you trust your brother and he says he trusts his brother-in-law, due to the reference you tend to trust that brother-in-law a little more than a mere stranger, right?

We can represent reliability as a percentage, where 0% would be no reliability and 100% would be total reliability.

If you say you trust your brother 70% and he says he trusts his brother-in-law 50%, for instance, you may consider 35% (70% x 50%) reliability for his brother-in-law.

Notice that the trust you place in someone decreases as relations become more distant, exactly like in real life.

Again like in real life, you may trust someone more or less depending on the subject. You may trust your brother 70% when it comes to soccer. When it comes to "Music", however, you trust him only 1%, in view of his deplorable musical taste.

"What subjects can I use?"

You don't get it. Being sovereign, you are free to use whatever subjects you wish, or none.

"What is the use of knowing that my brother's brother-in-law has 35% reliability and the uncle of the girlfriend of the neighbor of the parrot of the dentist of my grandfather has only 0,06% reliability for me?"

It is useful for guaranteeing our fourth freedom.

Fourth Freedom: Privacy

There are two aspects to privacy:

You must be free to see only what you want to see and, You must be free to maintain information hidden from people you do not trust.

This second aspect, secrecy, is obvious. The following are some examples of the first aspect.

Whenever your search for a page, music, film or any other resource, you may order results by reliability, leaving rubbish to the end.

Being sovereign, you may decide that you want to be interrupted by urgent messages from whoever has more than 60% reliability, but all messages from senders with less than 1% reliability go straight to the trash.

Being sovereign, you may bid spammers good-bye.

Fifth Freedom - Expression

You must be free to express yourself.

To depend on a static web host or blog host is not to be free. To be limited to these ridiculous vehicles is also far from being free.

Besides, it must be extremely easy for your friends, for people who trust you, to hear your voice, to know your opinion on matters of interest to them.

Musical taste is a very down to earth example of that.

What are the best ten songs of all time? What are the worst ten songs? What are the best ten "blue" songs? What are the ten songs that stick to your mind the most? What are the best ten songs to sing in the shower?

I am sure you would be interested in your friends' opinion on this type of subject, the same as they would be interested in yours.

Imagine you grade, from zero to 10, the top ten songs to listen to while having sex.

While the average grade you award is 8, you realize a friend of yours - much more demanding than you - awards 4 on average. To be able to compare, you decide to multiply her grades by 2 so that they are in the same range as yours.

You realize, still, that another friend keeps two lists: the top ten songs for sex in the car and the top ten songs for sex at home. That is a bit too much for you so you simply decide to merge both lists and pick the top ten.

Now you can publish a synthesis of your best songs along with your friends', all in the same range and in the same category.

Notice then that SYNTHESIS is also a form of expression.

It is precisely the force that counterbalances the chaos created by millions of sovereign parties publishing tons of information any way they please. You have access to all this information not directly, if you don't want to, but through syntheses - and syntheses by the people you trust the most on each subject.

Sixth Freedom - Hardware

You must be free to share your hardware resources as you wish.

I have a 30GB surplus on my HD and a 17kbps surplus on my Internet link to let. Are you capable of leasing to me 4MB of your RAM and 7MHz of your processor in exchange for that? Do you even know anyone who is?

There are about three people I know who could do that but only after they had spent months programming.

For the first time in my life, the capacity of my HD is greater than my capacity to install apps and store files in it. For the first time now, I have surplus space and its tens of gigabytes.

Still, I am forced to make backups of my personal files, including my digital photos, so as not to run the risk of loosing them. My mother is in the exact same situation.

After searching for hours, I could not find a free software app allowing me to create, updated in a totally transparent fashion, in the idle space of my HD, a replica of my mother's files and vice-versa.

Maybe such a solution even exists, but it is certainly not in common use.

For us to be truly sovereign, we must be capable of freely associating and sharing the space on our HDs. The same applies to our RAM, our processors and our Internet links.

With that we can bid Internet hosts, as we currently know them, good-bye.

If you, my mother and I create a cluster with our 3 machines, we shall have presences on the Internet that will be more robust and more available than the vast majority of today's commercial sites, even without making file backups.

And this need not be all. How many of your friends have machines at home with fast Internet access? If you federate with your sovereign friends, you can all establish Internet presences that are practically invulnerable.

Even if your machine crashes, your virtual presence will remain alive and perfectly well, hosted by the machines of people you trust.

Seventh Freedom - Software

You must be free to share all the software you use with whoever you wish.

For such, it is essential to use Free Software, of course. The four freedoms defined by the Free Software Foundation are therefore considered freedoms 7.0, 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3 of sovereign computing.

But using Free Software is not enough. Software must also be extremely easy, simple to install and to use.

Free Software products have improved a lot in this respect lately, but it is a point most Free Software definitions still leave out.

The more a software is friendly to use and to install, the greater the number of people with whom you will be free to share it.



Neide is 14.

After school and before going to work with her sister, she passes by the public Internet center in Vila Tiradentes, Brazil, and notices that 11 people have already accessed the sovereign services she set up the day before.

She doesn't have a PC at home, let alone fast Internet access, nor does she have money for web hosting. This is why she had used a free host called Geocities before, which benefited by placing ads on her site.

However she has a classmate, Pedro, whose father owns a shop where he has a PC and fast Internet.

With Pedro and another 4 friends that she met on the net, she got 7MHz worth of processing power and some 20MB of HD space in all.

In fact she got twice as much, but she let half of it to Gladson, Maicon and Carla, three other visitors of the Internet center. They are younger than Neide and she is teaching them the first steps in computers.

Neide's story is only just beginning.


Before they achieved computing sovereignty, people would receive hundreds of undesired messages every day bringing viruses, chain letters, advertising and all sorts of rubbish. It was the infamous "spam".

On most web pages there were also animated ads assailing the audience, who had no option but to put up with that.

People were forced to make frequent copies of all of their personal files on removable media, such as floppy disks or CDs. That was called "backup". For trusting their HDs too much, many people lost a life's worth of digital photos, music, messages, contacts and projects.

In order to "access" the Internet, people had to pay a "provider" and obtain "IP addresses", arbitrarily handed out by a controlling organization.

In order to keep in touch, people kept nagging each other with messages such as "take note of my new cell-phone number" or "take note of my new e-mail address".

E-mails, by the way, were plaintext messages - believe it or not - people used to send through intermediaries called "providers", with no privacy at all. And they used to pay for that.

Many people used to leave their private e-mails hosted on "webmail" servers, running the risk of having their privacy invaded by the system operator crew or having their e-mails suddenly lost by them.

When searching the web, instead of getting the pages with the most relevance to them first, people used to receive first the pages that the search engine - a certain "Google" for instance - considered to be the most relevant to everyone.

Besides having to wait for days to download a file at times, people who shared music, movies and other files using "peer-to-peer" systems still had to pan a torrent of phony, faulty and incomplete files.

With expression capacity limited to insipid "blogs", most people were mere consumers of information produced by global news agencies and canned by self-denominated "content providers".

Those who only used a certain instant messaging system were unable to communicate with others who used any other system. "ICQ" and "MSN" were two such systems at the time. People used to keep several of them open at the same time, to be able to chat with all of their friends.

Some participated in primitive relationship networks such as "Orkut" and "LinkedIn". They were limited, did not communicate with each other, and since they were based on centralized sites, they offered those same reliability and privacy risks as webmail servers.

If, instead of using commercial servers, anyone decided to have his own server on the Internet with his own "domain" name, this person had to pay yet another arbitrary fee every year. And if this domain name had already been taken, this person was simply forced to conform and choose another.

In order to host a safe site, people had to buy "digital certificates" from one of half a dozen companies, such as "Verisign" or "Certisign". Everyone trusted them blindly through the little padlocks on their browsers. Those companies were, in effect, the owners of the truth.

Most people took refuge in ignorance. In that depressing context, some people created for themselves an illusion of freedom, a palliative freedom they called "Free Software".

Free Software users or not, therefore, they were no more than subjects conforming to the arbitrary laws dictated by a handful of Internet "authorities".

The Turning Point

People got fed up with that monkey business.

They decided they would be free to share information and hardware resources with their friends at their own pleasure.

This freedom became known as sovereign computing.


Besides eliminating all problems described above, sovereign computing opened further possibilities people did not even dream about.

Organizations, families and affinity groups in general abandoned the clumsy e-mail-based "discussion lists" and started to share extremely rich, intricate and friendly information bases.

It was no longer necessary to manually grant and revoke access rights to every user of every restricted system. System administrators were freed to do more useful things.

It became common to work together with other people, sharing on-line projects, without having to send e-mails to and fro, duplicating versions and more versions of attached "documents".

People started to use the Internet not only to communicate with their contacts, but also as a means to express themselves. Overcoming the limitations of pathetic "blogs", people acquired a voice that was heard by their Internet communities without depending on providers or hosts.

Gutenberg had given people access to information. Attaining sovereignty in computing, they also conquered the right to publication. The five-hundred-year cycle was complete.

After requisite legislative reform in their countries, people started to buy things and establish credit using electronic currency that they issued themselves. Each person became his or her own mint, surpassing the liquidity of the monetary system and, at the same time, recovering the autonomy of barter, lost thousands of years earlier.

Anyone became capable of, with a single mouse-click, hosting any service in his or her machine, to be accessed by him or her and by their friends - and these services remained up even when their machines were turned off.

End of the Story

Neide is happy because removing her site from Geocities she will finally be able to use dynamic content and, above all, she will be rid of that damned ad.

She will be able to use real programming, that she started to learn last year, and create her own sovereign service. Other people, she hopes, might even give her the honor of installing it on their own machines.

She leaves the public Internet center, heading to her sister's office, chin up, smiling. She hops.

Maybe she is no one in the real world, but she knows that at least in the virtual world she has a future.

She is someone.


The above is a story we will tell our children. Stories such as Neide's will then be commonplace, whereas now they are simply a flash of the future.

I shall demonstrate that - resuming some simple freedoms, which we have in the real world but have lost in the virtual - to live this new reality is only a matter of time. Because it is such a pleasant experience, it is not much time we are talking about.

"Are we talking about new software? About new technology?"

Yes, but that is not all. It is much simpler and much more encompassing than that. It is a new attitude we are talking about. It takes wanting:

>>To be free to share information and hardware resources with friends.<<

When we acquire that freedom, we shall have attained computing sovereignty.

"Alright. And...? How shall we acquire that freedom?"

Little by little.


Even if I resort to the whole Free Software arsenal available to me, without spending months programming, even I who was raised amongst computers, cannot freely share information and hardware resources with my friends.

That is ridiculous.

Some friends and I are developing applications, which, besides being free, make it trivial for just any person to attain computing sovereignty.

"Why are you doing that?"

Because we can.

We are programmers. It is practically our duty to put an end to the circus it is to use the Internet today.

Besides, a world with independent and sovereign people will be far more interesting than hordes and hordes of passive and numbed cybernauts.

"But must one be a programmer to help?"

No. Software is useless if no one knows about it or no one uses it. To use what we are developing, it is enough to wish to be free, truly free.


Sovereign Computing Projects [1]:

Sneer is a free and open source sovereign computing platform. It enables you to share media, info, applications and anything you want with whoever you like.

Peerscape is an experimental peer-to-peer social network implemented as an extension to the Firefox web browser. It's all about managing information instead of servers.

LifeSocial is a P2P-based online social network developed at the Technische Universität Darmstadt and at the University of Paderborn.

Opera Unite is a new technology platform allowing you to share content directly with friends, without having to upload anything to a Web site.

Diaspora is an open-source and distributed community of social networks run by users that enables you to own your own personal data, control with whom you share, and discover cool stuff throughout the W

Key Resources