HamRadioTweets Gets the Word Out

In times of crisis, or extreme government control, it can be difficult to spread critical information to people who can help. A good example of this was during the Arab Spring in 2011. When your Internet connection is taken away, it can feel as though all is lost. Unless you have a ham radio, that is.

For many people the thought of ham radio conjures up images of old guys twisting knobs listening to static, but it’s actually come a long way in our modern digital age. For example, you can now send tweets via ham radio. This project was actually started in 2011 by [Bruce Sutherland]. The Egyptian government had shut down the country’s Internet access after citizens were posting information about the extreme violence they were facing. [Bruce] wanted a way to help  others get the word out, and he came up with HamRadioTweets. This system allows a user to send tweets via ham radio.

The system actually piggybacks off of a ham radio service called APRS. This service is most often associated with GPS tracking systems, such as those found in nearspace balloons, but it can also be used to send simple text messages over the air. APRS works thanks to the vast network of receiving stations setup all around the world. These stations can receive messages and then re-transmit them, greatly extending the reach of the original transmitter. Some of them are even hooked up to the Internet to get the messages to go distances that would be extremely difficult and unreliable by traditional means.

[Bruce’s] system hooked into the Internet component and watched for messages being sent specifically to “TWITR”. The Python based system would then read these messages and re-transmit them over Twitter. The project died out a while back after Twitter updated their API. Now, it’s been rebuilt on Ruby by [Harold Giddings]. The project website was handed over to [Harold] and he is currently maintaining it. Hopefully you’ll never need to use this software, but if the time comes you will be glad it’s available. You can watch [Harold] bounce an APRS message off of the International Space Station and on to Twitter in the video below.

22 thoughts on “HamRadioTweets Gets the Word Out

    1. So what you’re saying is: it’s better for people to have ham radio than for the government to allows its citizens to be politically active?

      Alright.

      Also, only use I’m seeing listed in this article relating to “politics” is the Arab spring: a human rights issue. North Korea not included, human rights are nigh unilaterally recognized. Unless you are saying your human rights are up for debate.

      1. I agree with him completely, ham radio is heavily regulated for a reason and those who won’t play by the rules like karol madera ve7kfm who has been known to state his encouragement of terrorist attacks on the us on air are shunned by almost everyone for good reason. ham radio is not the place for politics or religion, for those that champion their causes or those that derogate it. while i do agree in a thinking mans support of government by necessity it is something that must be done in private.

        1. I’ll fix this for you, Bob:

          ‘Those who won’t play by the rules’ — like Brian CROW K3VR and Mike GUERNSEY KZ8O/nd8v — are eventually rightly HAMmerered by the FCC:

          https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-14-1031A1.pdf
          https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-14-1030A1.pdf

          https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-15-51A1.pdf
          https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-15-832A1.pdf

          BTW Did you know that Karol VE7KFM was chiefly responsible for these two ~simultaneous “Blessed Events”?

          Even though he is nowhere explicitly mentioned, above, N.B. that: it was VE7KFM who was interfered with, as is stated in the virtually identical FN #11 in both NALs; VE7KFM was also central to several of the Warning Letters and related, a partial litany of which is found in FN #2 in the Mike GUERNSEY KZ8O NAL; and VE7KFM was the very subject under ‘sharp’ discussion by Laura SMITH, Special Counsel for Amateur Radio Enforcement (SCARE) at the FCC as summarized in the lengthy and disturbing FN #16 of the Brian CROW K3VR NAL.

    2. This system has many more possibilities than just civil unrest. It allows world wide communication when local infrastructure is down, for any reason. Sure it’s origin is politically motivated but that doesn’t mean it can only be used for protests. Or even only when local infrastructure is down. This could only help with regional disaster response or backwoods rescue operations.

      If the gov’t is worried about people talking to each other maybe you should be protesting and getting people to change how they vote.

    3. @Peter Bennett
      You tell’em Peter! But why stop at Ham Radio? Journalism is critical to a number of hobby specific periodicals. There are hobbies and hobbyists that want nothing to do with exposing government corruption and or illegal activities by those in government. The risk to our hobbies is just too great! Trying to compare an open and free to use HAM radio with freedom/liberty is like comparing apples to oranges. Ham radio as well as all other politics free hobbies are waaayy to important to risk for nothing more than human rights and freedom from tyranny. Thanks Peter for standing up for Ham Radio and for the global elite that seek to rule the rest of us with an iron fist.

      P.S. Do you think humor/sarcasm should also be free from politics?

  1. Dictatorship in Egypt recently sent few hundred to gallows just for participating in a rally. But as long as we pretend there was no coup, all is ok, right? Something tells me that this incredible perversion of justice might be responsible for some IS recruits.

    This is exactly the type of environment where projects such as this one described might come in handy. What is needed in my opinion is some low powered equipment that many can build, does not require ham licence, and uses multiple frequencies. Like Tor but on radio.

    1. The twitter server is one-way only, you can’t go from twitter to APRS. This is to protect the APRS network and prevent non-ham from sending messages in-inadvertently over RF.

      There are email gateways, sms gateways, and many others. Lets not forget APRS is a communications medium, it’s not just for locating your car, pet, or weather balloon.

      1. KR0SIV, I think that’s the key point that is rarely, if ever, addressed when talking about APRS. As Bob WB4APR himself has stated, “APRS is not a vehicle tracking system. It is a two-way tactical real-time digital communications system between all assets in a network sharing information about everything going on in the local area.”

    2. Considering that it’s something other than Automatic Vehicle Location, I support this application just based on the novelty of it. Just don’t try and attach a photo to your tweet. That would end badly…

  2. I was thinking this exact premise during the Egypt/Syria blackouts and was looking at APRS.fi at that time. There was one beacon transmitting but I think it was a iGated station. The rest of the country was dark compared to Israel across the border. Which got me thinking, “If you have a ham ticket and lived in a environment like that, would you risk it knowing that every transmitter in the country probably had a bullseye on it?”

    Personally, I think in places like Egypt, Amateur Radio is a old man’s hobby or not actively encouraged. Same with Syria. Tho, I do remember someone hopping into IRC one day asking how they could obfuscate their satellite connection as they were raiding people with satcoms. I recommended they string ethernet cable or wireless bridges to wifi access points then access the satcom.

    Amateur Radio is not to be used for news gathering. Nor is it to be used for illegal purposes. Both of which in situations like Egypt would be questionable because of the events that occur during. That said, I’m for communications free of politics and health/welfare traffic outside of such hot zones. With APRS it makes sense as there are multiple satellites that pass over most of the populated world at least 2 times a day capable of relaying APRS traffic. We should definitely be using this resource.

    1. It’s my understanding that in some Arab countries, many hams don’t actually own the station hardware they use; this was the case in Iraq, and it’s why when Iraq invaded Kuwait in the early 1990’s, they confiscated as much Amateur Radio equipment as they could. Of course, this doesn’t stop an enterprising ham from getting the word out; google the phrase “Last Voice from Kuwait” for one example of this.

      1. For myself the the last voice from Kuwait lost any usefulness when it was revealed that the that last voice disseminated false reports. As a ham radio operator I point to that story only to caution about placing too much blind faith in what you hear over the airwaves. The story tickles me most is how the US lost control of announcing the invasion of Grenada when an American citizen/ham because of concern for his safety and that of his fellow Decedents contacted hams Stateside to inquire if there where any ongoing news reports about Grenada. Stateside hams contacted the news outlets who then contacted the government. True that Iraqi forces rounded up radio communications equipment, that’s probably SOP for US forces when they conduct invasions or any military power for that matter.

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