This Interview Was Conducted on an Anonymous, DIY Cell Phone Network

Sopranica is a surveillance-free cellular network built by volunteers from around the world. It’s easy to use and free to set up.

– Daniel Oberhaus

Most people in the United States—and increasingly, around the world—carry the most sophisticated surveillance devices ever created in their pockets day in and day out. Although smartphones have enabled governments and corporations to track our movements and monitor our conversations with unprecedented ease, these devices are also an incredibly useful personal tool and have become an indispensable part of modern life.

It’s a crappy trade off, but evidently one that most of us seem OK with. But Denver Gingerich, a programmer based in New York City, doesn’t see why we can’t have our smartphones and our privacy, too.

For the past few years, Gingerich has been laying the groundwork for Sopranica, an open source, DIY cell network that allows smartphone owners to make calls, send texts and eventually browse the internet with total anonymity.

In January, Gingerich published the code for the first part of Sopranica called JMP. This is essentially a way of using a secure instant messaging protocol called XMPP, better known as Jabber, to communicate over voice and text from an anonymous phone number. JMP is the first phase of the Sopranica network.

The next phase—called WOM—will create the physical infrastructure for the cell network with a community radio network. This will essentially involve people hosting small, inexpensive radio devices in their home that plug into their routers to provide internet access points to Sopranica users in the area.

In October, Gingerich presented the first part of his plan for Sopranica at Radical Networks, an annual conference celebrating creative and subversive approaches to the Internet. Gingerich said that he and 15 others have been collaborating in a chatroom to continue developing the network since its initial launch earlier this year.

After hearing about Sopranica during this presentation, I was eager to sign up for the cell network and give it a try. …

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