“Internet not working, police cars burning,” sent out one Egyptian. “Today marks a great day for Egypt,” sent out another.
These messages weren’t coming from mobile phones or computers, but from an amateur radio sending out Morse Code somewhere amidst the chaos in Egypt.
The Egyptian government’s efforts to limit communications within the country has triggered a wave of activism from an international group of free speech activists on the Internet called Telecomix.
Organizing using chat rooms, wikis, and collaborative writing tools, this largely anonymous group has worked to inform Egyptians about their communications options while receiving incoming messages from them. Telecomix has previously worked on free speech efforts in Tunisia, Iran, China and other countries who have tried to censor or block parts of the Internet.
Egypt has been identified as a “top priority” for Telecomix on one of its network sites, We Re-Build. It has a wiki set up as a one-stop shop with the latest chat rooms and resources for the ongoing efforts.
There are roughly 20 extremely active members, 50 active and some 300 total including lurkers, according to chat administrator Christopher Kullenberg from Gothenburg, Sweden.
“Think of Telecomix as an ever growing bunch of friends that do things together,” Kullenberg says.
For the majority of users, anonymity is stressed and real identities are rendered obsolete.
Said one chat user, in awe from Australia: “I’m new here, just trying to help.”
Here’s a timeline of recent events for the group:
When Internet and mobile services were cut off in Egypt on Thursday night, though landlines were operational, members immediately got to work to send information to Egyptian fax numbers. Searching for a common string of characters found in Egyptian fax machines numbers on Google, they discovered a large amount of numbers.
At first, they sent out Wikileaks cables to these numbers, but then they determined the Egyptians didn’t need additional motivation. Instead, they were interested in information on how to communicate with each other and the outside world. The activists thus began providing instructions for using dial-up modems and amateur radios, known as Ham radios, which the Egyptian people could use to communicate.
The group says it’s also worked on receiving and decoding amateur radio messages, sent on frequencies recommended by the group of activists. While these groups have only been able to receive a small amount of messages of a short length with an unknown source, the Egyptian people’s use of amateur radio to transmit messages represents an interesting utilization of old-fashioned technology to circumvent government restrictions.
Most activists behind these messages tell The Huffington Post they wish to remain anonymous. But besides Telecomix, other Internet groups have assisted, including “Anonymous,” which has helped by sending out large amounts of faxes into Egypt. “Anonymous” was also involved in denial of service operations against organizations who took actions against Wikileaks. They’ve also participated in many other operations, with targets ranging from Scientology to Gene Simmons.
Have these efforts proven effective in helping the Egyptian people? “We cannot really tell,” said Kullenberg. “Opening up communication channels is enough for us. What that leads up to, is up to the people communicating.”