Building a new totally free phone

Nick openmoko-community at
Fri Aug 23 14:12:00 CEST 2013

Your free phone idea appeals to me enormously, Michael. And I, 
(unlike I suspect some others on the list) very much like your 
framing of the issues, too. I fully support the idea that if a law 
makes private conversation illegal, it is a bad law, and regulatory 
blocks on GSM that forbid inspectable and modifiable cannot but be 

However, can GSM really be a base for secure communication anyway?  
I've heard that the encryption used is really crappy, and while some 
things like MITM forced reregistration to disable encryption and 
ease surveillance could be countered by appropriate phone settings, 
if the best encryption algorithm available can be cracked by a home 
PC in a few days, you're still screwed.

A truly free phone is a worthy and very important thing for other 
reasons, but could such a thing be strongly secure too? Or is the 
only solution there to rely on something like ZRTP in voip, and give 
up wishing that GSM could provide security?

I've always been somewhat vague about how modems and their 
processors interact with other parts of a system. Am I correct in 
thinking that once the first firmware part of your project was 
complete, one could flash load that the GTA02 modem, and have a (far 
more 'smart' and Linux-y than you're ultimately planning) free 
openmoko phone? Or would the modem firmware have to be programmed 
differently for the GTA02 compared to your feature phone? While I am 
more interested in a feature phone than a 'smart' phone, I would be 
very happy to have a really free modem firmware on my GTA02 in the 

It's interesting to think of the meanings of 'free' in your message.  
Because one of the nice things of free software traditionally has 
been the ability to say "it's free software, so I can do what I like 
with it, and you can't invoke state violence against me for doing 
so," due to a careful 'respect' of the copyrights of people who 
don't want their stuff to be free. While regulatory reigimes 
seemingly make this impossible anyway with GSM, I don't relish the 
idea of essentially giving more power to other people to wield the 
law against the project or its' users. But I understand that writing 
a firmware from scratch for something like the Calypso would be a 
massive amount of work, and I would rather have a reusable and 
inspectable firmware that breaks copyright law, than none at all, 
particularly for something as directly dangerous to one's security 
as a phone.

With this in mind, I do wonder why the OsmocomBB work isn't 
appropriate as a base for your work? Can you explain this a bit more 
why it isn't? Is it just that they are quite a long way from 
producing a complete firmware for a phone?

> And because it is so totally incomprehensible to my mind how someone
> can be like you, and be able to live with yourself while watching
> someone else's life wither away because of your selfishness, I find
> myself at a complete loss as to how one should interact with people
> like you.

I do think you need to be more careful, kind, and forgiving of 
perceived differences, when speaking to others in the community.  
We're all in a similar position here, working towards helping people 
communicate freely. Sure, people have different things they will 
compromise in order to try to effect this, but ultimately I find it 
hard to believe that anybody in the openmoko community isn't here in 
large part because of their wish to see people able to freely 

It's fine and healthy to not always agree with others about what 
compromises are appropriate, and to argue to try to figure out what 
the best course of action is, but it is unjust to assume malice,
and saying what I've quoted above (regardless of how true it may feel)
is likely to just turn people off to you. We need all the solidarity 
we can muster, and we need to celebrate the work people are doing, 
and try to respect them, and their differences. Even - nay, 
especially - if there are major differences that you can't 

I look forward very much to hearing your progress with your project.  
If there's something I as an enthusiastic but comparitively ignorant 
volunteer can do to help, let me know!


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