Backbone 409

Resilient hosting: legal, technical, and political geographies

Keywords: political engagement, il/legality, disobedience, repression of users and infrastructures

Summary: Where should we host our services? Is it useful for collectives to have their data stored in proximity to, or even within, the local community? What are the advantages and disadvantages of hosting in different countries? How do collectives approach, manage or ignore the legal system in different locales? This roundtable explores these questions to see how different projects deal with the problems of protecting the integrity of user data while maintaining reliable services.

This roundtable discussion continues the neverending conversations about where, how and in which context to host services, or register resources and organisations. We also ask about the benefits and trade-offs of illegality, clandestinity, and disobedience. We discuss if radical providers should concentrate on circumvention through placing their services strategically or take a political position of hosting in their localities, so they can fight digital struggles in their own context (like Espiv 1 and Saravá 2 does for instance).

Post-Snowden, users often assume that hosting in the USA is dangerous for data integrity, while Iceland is an ideal location for activist servers. Others argue that countries such as the United States and Germany have a more predictable legal practice which is good for hosting. There are good practices of practical solidarity amongst radical technology collectives to provide backup space and fallback servers for each other, which results in the increasing resilience of the infrastructure.

Many collectives rooted in a local activist culture argue that having their servers within their city or region makes it easier to create political mobilisation in case of attacks to put pressure on the authorities. Community networks like 3 provide an opportunity for greater autonomy on the physical and network level by placing servers within activist networks, which could keep services running even if the national Internet is unreliable or is completely controlled by adversaries.

There are also different approaches to the legal implementation of grassroots service providers and technology collectives. Tails 4 developers are anonymous for instance, while MayFirst 5 adopted a completely open and transparent method of operation. These are two ways of defending against repression. The model of Sindominio 6 is more innovative: new users sign a legal document which states that all members are equally liable for any complaints against Sindominio content and services. This makes an injury to one automatically an injury to all, and is designed to cement the political support of users for the collective.

All in all, radical technology collectives have to navigate a complicated landscape of alternative legal, technical and political solutions in order to keep afloat and effectively protect the data of users. In the final analysis, however, technical and legal measures have to rest on the foundation of wide political solidarity.

  1. Espiv is a Greek autonomous server collective. ↩

  2. Sarava is a Brazilian autonomous server collective. ↩

  3. is one of the biggest community Internet service providers working with wireless and fiber networks in Catalonia and beyond. ↩

  4. Tails, The Amnesic Incognito Live System, is a Linux distribution designed for anonymity and privacy. ↩

  5. May First/People’s Link is a nonprofit membership organisation with more than 400 members, providing Internet services. ↩

  6. Sindominio is an autonomous server project founded in 1999 in the Spanish State. ↩