How The Runaway Success Of A Tiny $25 Computer Could Become A Big Problem For Oppressive Regimes
from the hidden-benefits dept
The Raspberry Pi is a $25 credit-card sized computer that has succeeded in making GNU/Linux not just newsworthy, but downright desirable. The initial batch of boards sold out in minutes, and eager customers crashed the server where it was being sold.
The original vision of the Raspberry Pi was to promote amateur programming and to re-invigorate the teaching of computing in the UK (and elsewhere) by providing a very low-cost and easily hackable system. Naturally, though, its open source code allows it to be applied in many different situations. Here, for example, is a plan to create a secure chat system for activists that can be used in countries where communications are routinely under surveillance, using a program called Cryptocat:
Because of their low-cost and small size they can then be shipped to activists and NGO's in areas where free-speech is difficult.
An interesting consequence of Moore's Law and the ready availability of free software is that powerful computers can now be produced for just tens of dollars, and in an extremely small package. The low cost means that organizations supporting activists can send in many such systems to countries with human rights problems, and replace them if they are discovered and confiscated or destroyed. The size makes it much easier to import them discreetly, as well as to conceal them in countries that try to keep computing under tight control.
"This is especially useful for activist organizations, human rights organizations, any group composed of a few dozen people who need to have an internal secure communication service," said Mr Kobeissi.
Small, portable Raspberry Pi computers set up to run Cryptocat, he believes, may be a quick way to build such a service.
And it's not just the Raspberry Pi that will be making this possible. Its high-profile success is likely to mean that in due course other systems will be produced that are cheaper and smaller. That will ensure they are even more popular with the educational market and hackers -- and even more problematic for oppressive regimes.