Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Darknet for Those in Dark Places

I have (sort of) established that censorship in internet cannot succeed without violating basic human rights. Sadly, this is the de facto case, they are not observed in half of the world today. There are a number of experimental projects that aim to provide freedom of expression and of information retrieval. I would like to introduce one of them: The Free Network Project.

Freenet, as is commonly known, is software designed to allow the free exchange of information over the Internet without fear of censorship, or reprisal. To achieve this Freenet makes it very difficult for adversaries to reveal the identity, either of the person publishing, or downloading content. The Freenet project started in 1999, released Freenet 0.1 in March 2000, and has been under active development ever since.

What makes Freenet different from other similar projects is found in these few sentences:
The journey towards Freenet 0.7 began in 2005 with the realization that some of Freenet's most vulnerable users needed to hide the fact that they were using Freenet, not just what they were doing with it. The result of this realization was a ground-up redesign and rewrite of Freenet, adding a "darknet" capability, allowing users to limit who their Freenet software would communicate with to trusted friends. This would make it far more difficult for a third-party to determine who is using Freenet.
Unlike many cutting edge projects, Freenet long ago escaped the science lab, it has been downloaded by over 2 million users since the project started, and it is used for the distribution of censored information all over the world including countries such as China and the Middle East. Ideas and concepts pioneered in Freenet have had a significant impact in the academic world. Our 2000 paper "Freenet: A Distributed Anonymous Information Storage and Retrieval System" was the most cited computer science paper of 2000 according to Citeseer [via webarchive.org], and Freenet has also inspired papers in the worlds of law and philosophy. Ian Clarke, Freenet's creator and project coordinator, was selected as one of the top 100 innovators of 2003 by MIT's Technology Review magazine.

It is a daring project for extreme circumstances where you can
  • publish web sites (freesites, as they call it)
  • communicate via message boards
  • distribute content
  • and send mail anonymously.
In addition to private companies, the project is sponsored by individuals like John Pozadzides (founder of htmlhelp.com and former Vice President of Sales for SAVVIS Communications) and John Gilmore (one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Cypherpunks mailing list, and Cygnus Solutions, creator of the alt.* hierarchy in Usenet and a major contributor to the GNU project).

The latest version of the project is Freenet 0.7.0 "Darknet" and was released on May 8, 2008.

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