Iridium dissident network

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Fri May 26 2000 - 15:55:08 MDT

David Brin wrote:
> ABSTRACT: What daring 21st century concepts or projects would you most
> like to see pursued, if money were no object?

My father notes that the soon-to-burn-up Iridium network has excellent
potential as an uncontrolled communications medium. As such, it might
be a useful public service - for China in my father's example, although
targeting Iran, or Iraq, is likely to generate less political fallout.
The classic Stiegler scenario involves mass-produced palmtops rather
than large, bulky Iridium phones, but a global satellite network is at
least a step towards the ideal. Does anyone know how much it'd cost to
run the ground control stations (assuming you can buy the satellite
network for $1 or whatever); does anyone know when the network
irreversibly de-orbits; and does anyone know of a handy 'illionaire (or
a network of Chinese dissidents) who'd consider it worthwhile?

Personally, I think it unlikely that anyone will step up to fund this in
time. But the idea is certainly worth passing on - as is the underlying
challenge. For example, if it turns out that active Iridium phones are
too easy to detect: What would it take to overlay static on a voice/fax
line, or bit twitches on a digital cellphone connection, that were
distinguishable from random noise *only* if you possessed the encryption
key? And what bandwidth could you get? Could you run a FreeNet network
over random, innocently-made cellphone calls that happened to be made
from phones plugged into a FreeNet laptop? And is FreeNet a good
architecture for supporting revolutionary cells?


From: M. Yudkowsky ( > > When speaking to a friend the other evening, he mentioned the "folk > theorem" that if access to fax machines were available to some magic > percentage of the population of China, the Chinese government would lose > control of information, and thus control of the people. > > I disagreed. US corporations, not to mention European ones, would > cheerfully sell the Chinese government software to monitor all telephone > lines for faxes. I can easily imagine a system that requires each fax to > identify itself, with copies of each fax kept by the government. > > However, there is a complete telecommunications system accessible by > Chinese dissidents that isn't under the control of the Chinese > government. I refer to the Iridium system, now bankrupt and so > hopelessly un-economical that the sattelites are about to be deorbited. > > Imagine, if you will, that a consortium of expatriate Chinese purchase > the satellites for $1 apiece, and pay for the ground stations to run > them. They would have a system available to the Chinese dissidents that > the Chinese government can't control. > > Of course, there's lots of questions to be answered about this idea; to > solve the problems, I am thinking of a process that can perhaps be > described as the first open-source revolutionary manifesto. > > Some thoughts to seed debate: > > * The cost of a satellite phone would have to drop dramatically. Of > course, it would no longer have to look pretty -- it'd simply have to be > "concealable." > > * The cost of putting Iridium into orbit is irrevocably gone; but if the > bankruptcy lawyers smell money, the sharks may gather, which would put > paid to the project. Perhaps they can be bought off by promises of > future profits. > > * A good 60% of the cost of running a phone system is in billing. If the > dissidents dispense with billing, the costs drop dramatically. > > * Authorization of users would still be needed to prevent > denial-of-service attacks by the Chinese government. > > * This system would also be of use to Iranian dissidents. > > * Politically, the companies who sell Iridium to dissidents will be > targeted by the Chinese government. Can this problem be overcome? Or > will the Iridium consortium members decide to make a long-term > investment in the future, in the next Chinese government? > > * If the Iridium consortium decide NOT to sell, can the satellites be stolen? > > * This project must be financed on a voluntary basis: this is an > extremely modern model of doing business; it may not work; the backers > must be willing to shoulder losses. Perhaps some brave company will > advertise over the network...

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:11:42 MDT