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<nettime> HIP: interview with marta (european counter network-rome)
Geert Lovink on Mon, 11 Aug 1997 17:50:16 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> HIP: interview with marta (european counter network-rome)

note: this article is one of the results of the on-line journal which 
was produced during the Hacking In Progress event, last weekend. The live
net reporting marked the start of the magazine of the digital city
Amsterdam. You can find the text, audio and video reports at:
For the first time, a number of political providers from europe held an
informal meeting to get to know each other. After the presentation of
contrast.org (nl) groups from Paris, Italy (ecn), Hamburg (nadir.org)
etc. discussed about forms of collaborations like the newly created
international federation of independant media and the tactical media
network, which is currently based at Hybrid Workspace in Kassel. (geert)

Interview with Marta from Rome about ecn (european counter network)
and islands in the net.
by bas r.

Can you explain what ecn is and does?

Ecn is something like a political provider: we offer space, e-mail,
knowledge, network services (of course without asking money) to groups
and individuals of the underground scene in Italy and outside. Groups and
individuals must have a few characteristics: they must be self
organizing, anti-fascist, anti-sexist and anti-racist.

How did this initiative start?

Ecn is now an open political provider, but its roots are from autonomia
operaia, a political movement that started in the 70s in Italy. We
started very early with communication technology for the Italian
underground and computer scene. In 1989 we created a network of BBS to
exchange information between movement radios, social centers and squats in
Italy. After three years we joined another new-made network, called
Cybernet, and passed into Fido technology. These two networks, ECN and
Cybernet found somehow the space to share two souls: a political one from
ecn and a cyberpunk, techno-political one from Cybernet.
We shared (and still share!) different discussion areas: the main one is
the cyberpunk area, where we speak about every argument concerning the
use of new technology, politics, transgender, drugs, counter-information
and much more. Other areas are about social centers, cyber rights and
The network of Fido BBS's still survives, and just last year we decided to
add an internet service to our efforts, called Isole Nella Rete (islands
in the net, go http:// www.ecn.org). This is a new project, that involves
new people and new experiences from both original networks, ecn and

Did this 'opening up' towards the internet have consequences for the
contents of the network?

The explosion of the internet arrived in Italy in 1994. Before this, the
internet was accessible only for universities and for research purposes.
So, when it went public and became commercialized, the interest of the
general public in life on the net grew. More people became aware of the
possibility to get or to share information on the net - and more people
learned about ecn and got progressively involved in it.
Isole nella Rete chose to open its services to every group in need of a
place to organise themselves on the net. The conditions of access are the
ones mentioned above.
Opening up to the internet also brought discussions on cyberrights and
related issues to a larger public. New interests have risen amongst the
larger public because of the internet explosion and our islands on the
net initiative, like the importance of anonymity in the digital age.
Anonymity was considered a bourgeois desire at first, but after people
learned more about the importance of this issue in the digital world,
where you must defend yourself in a different way compared to the
analogical world, they got involved in this discussion.
Anarchists used the islands for informing people on the legal actions of
the state against them. This made the anarchist movement more sensitive
for communication technology; before that they only saw the negative sides
of it.

What about the sense of community? Is it different on the islands as
compared to the BBS?

With the Fido BBS technology there was (and still is) a clear sense of
community, as compared to the islands in the net website. On the islands
are now 4 mailing lists: about social centers, cyberrights, zapatistas
and 'movement', a more general area. But these mailing lists are not so
'immediate' as the Fido bulletin boards are. People feel somehow less
involved. They see the website (the islands in the net) as an instrument
to publish stuff (you read it and maybe answer sometimes) and not as a
place to socialise. On the Fido boards people really feel present in a
place they share with other people. This sense of community is much lower
on the islands.
For the cyberrights discussion, there is a gateway between Fido and the
web, the messages are the same (if it works). Now the other areas of Fido
are being gatewayed to newsgroups (instead of the web) because we think
these give a better sense of community.

What happens on the islands today?

First, there is a project on the islands on political prisoners who have
published their diary (in print). We have put that diary on the net with
the possibility for everyone to add their own appointments and ideas. It
has become a kind of guestbook connecting political stories to all kinds
of personal and public events in daily life.

Another project of the islands: we offer a real audio service to movement
radios by publishing audio info points - this could turn into daily radio
news bulletins over the net.

We also mirror other sites like the German magazine Radikal. And we offer
space to political groups from outside Italy, like ecn France and a
Spanish political action group.

Apart from discussing issues like anonymity we also build the tools
necessary for getting it! Like an anonymous remailer, the 4th in Europe.
And we offer a collection of software like PGP for encrypting your
messages. This includes software from the US for instance, that should
not have been exported ;-).

These are all the things that the islands in the net are doing
themselves. Beside these projects a lot of other initiatives are guests on
the islands. Sometimes we have to teach them how to work with the net. We
believe in having as many participants fitting the profile as possible,
even if they are sometimes 'politically incompatible', like Italia Cuba
and the anarchists pages. Everyone should be able to join, this makes the
islands richer we think.
Now there is a structure (websites, newsgroups, e-mail, anonymous
remailers,  etc.) and a place where all info is gathered. For the future
we are looking at ways to re-create the web more as a tool to share
information, we want to bring more interactivity into it, and show how
everyone can organise their initiatives on the net. This we show to both
the general public and the underground. Finally we want to extend our
international contacts. If you are interested, go http://www.ecn.org and
write to info {AT} ecn.org!
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