The first organization of hackers has been founded in Tunisia. Known as HackerSpace, a group of prominent Tunisian Net-activists have joined forces to advocate for free access to information, digital freedom and to collectively set up a number of projects related to open online information.
Ali Hentati, is a 25 year old active member of the project. “We are creating a space of open source information enabling every citizen to actively partake in the information gathering, editing and sharing process. It is an excellent idea to better structure the new emerging concept of “citizen-journalism” we are all joining efforts to establish long-term sustainable strategies to guarantee the maximum amount of information freedom.”
Tunisian HackerSpace is a type of an open communitarian lab where people sharing common interests and developing similar ideas gather to carry out collaborative projects.
Tunis based Nawaat Media group, an independent platform for bloggers and independent citizen journalists in Tunisia, has opened their workspace to empower the initiative. “Nawaat has believed in the idea and is supporting us not only by opening wide their offices’ doors but also by providing us with needed equipment,” explained Ali.
Although the group has a membership of 25 active members, according to Ali the group is growing and developing membership day after day,”the Tunisian Open source community is attracting more and more students, pupils and cyber activists.”
So far, the only event organized by HackerSpace has been a code sprint, a group meeting of programmers who joined together to work on a collective project (almost always an open source one), which took place between December 22d and December 24th. This event resulted in the development of two promising projects.
“During the code sprint held two days ago we have decided to focus on two important projects: GovSearch, which consists of a search engine that will serve as a platform for any Tunisian user to access all publicly available information from Tunisian administrative bodies anytime and anywhere… We are planning to contact all the Tunisian administrations to ask them about the different ways to reach them, then we will upload the results into the database,” explained Ali.
The second project has been called Telecomix.com, a club gathering cyber-advocates dedicated to fighting internet censorship.
During the regime of Zine Abddine Ben Ali, many websites were censored by the National Internet Agency including Youtube, Daily Motion, many independent news sites and the websites of international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House.
While nearly all websites have been unblocked, the organization is looking out for the long term prospects of internet freedom. Without vigilant civil society the prospects of regressing to the days of censorship are real. HackerSpace is organizing a group of volunteer lawyers who will monitor the new rewriting process of the constitution to ensure that no law limiting cyber freedom is passed.
Although Tunisia has one of the most advanced internet infrastructures in the Middle East and North Africa with affordable high speed wireless internet coverage available to most of the population, only a third of the population has frequent access to the internet. Concerning the long-run objectives of this newly- formed project, Ali stated that members aim at working to extend internet-coverage beyond the current proportion of the population to hopefully include internet access to all Tunisian citizens.