Another [Fire]Wall is Falling

By JJ King, 10 March 2002

Peek-A-Booty, new code courtesy of the Cult of the Dead Cow, neutralises national firewalls. JJ King examines yet another border offensive

The status of the nation-state, called into question by the increasing cross-border flows of people, capital and corporate activity, the supranational extension of legal and juridical regimes, terror, and the recent military action responding to it, now faces novel threats from the net. A new piece of code founded on efforts from hacker collective the Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc), selected by Wired magazine as one of the top vapourware products of last year, is back from the dead, throwing up challenges to the firewall borders that some nation-states have set up to prevent access to (‘censor’) certain types, or sites, of information.

Peek-A-Booty is a piece of distributed anti-censorship hacktivism which forms an ad hoc, Gnutella-like peer-to-peer network facilitating unrestricted web browsing within nations that currently restrict web access – notably China, Malaysia, North Korea and many arabic states. Computers running Peek-A-Booty (and yours could be one of them) form a distributed server cloud, from which a small, randomly selected number access web documents as a proxy for restricted machines in recalcitrant nations. To the national firewall, a computer appears to be accessing innocuous personal nodes, not documents on its restricted list.

Peek-A-Booty is a freedom of speech play that will sit well with many liberal activists whatever its contribution to the demise of nationality. ‘We want adults to be able to access what is publicly available on the web,’ cDc spokesman Oxblood Ruffin says. ‘Our app doesn’t go behind firewalls, peer into the soul of IBM or anything like that.’ It’s telling that Ruffin should automatically see it as more egregious to breach the corporate firewall than that of the nation-state, whose borders are already so radically diminished. But libertarian activists’ casual use of an ethical absolute (in this case, ‘freedom of information’) to underwrite another attack on sovereignty is frightening: a reprise of the formula which underwrote the recent, equally illegitimate, attacks on Afghanistan.

JJ King <jamie AT> is a contributing editor of Mute