Programmers fight government with M-o-o-t OS

New operating system scheme to take on the government spooks

A team of cryptography experts plan to combat government email surveillance plans through a new super-secure operating system dubbed M-o-o-t.

The fedgling project has the backing of top cryptographers and is designed to tackle the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act, which gives police the power to wiretap ISPs and to demand data when required.

Privacy groups have attacked the law for its intrusiveness.

M-o-o-t is the blueprint for a simple operating system based on the BSD variant of Unix. The OS is contained entirely on a single CD so it will not allow users to store files on their PC. It sends encrypted information to numerous offshore "data havens", outside British jurisdiction and hides the information inside random data. This makes communications data near impossible for UK police to retrieve.

Head developer behind M-o-o-t, Peter Fairbrother, a freelance mathematician, says that he was driven to come up with the scheme by the governments Big Brother style plans. "Before even RIP was law, we were saying that it wouldn't work and now we're proving it. It's basically for anyone who is worried about privacy," he says.

Fairbrother says that M-o-o-t will feature a basic email client, word processor and graphics application and plans to have a first version of the operating system ready by July. They chose the name Moot, he says, because the word can mean a controversy as well as a meeting.

"It's a complete killer for RIP," agrees Brian Gladman, an ex-Ministry of Defence cryptography expert. "It means that RIP is dead for people who want to make the investment."

Although the government staunchly defends the RIP Act on the grounds of investigating growing cybercrime and illegal online activity, the act has been condemned by privacy groups who argue it gives investigators too much power. The programmers behind M-o-o-t, which Fairbrother says include some of the world's leading cryptographers, are unified in their opposition to the RIP Act.

"We are doing this so people can be private elsewhere than in our heads. We object to the idea that people should not be allowed to seek privacy from governments," say the project leaders on their Web site, www.m-o-o-t.org.

"Eventually we intend to incorporate the knowledge and ideas learned in this project into a programme that will defeat any such law, worldwide."

They can see you... Read about how and why in Surveillance, a ZDNet News Special

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