For those of you who don't know, Freenet is an application that connects you to a Peer-2-Peer (or Friend-2-Friend, if you know enough people) network. Unlike other P2P networks (such as Gnutella (this is what LimeWire uses) and BitTorrent (which I hesitate to call P2P)), Freenet's focus is NOT file-sharing. Freenet is designed in such a way that all content published to the network can be done fully anonymously (unless you put your name to it or something) and stored in several locations at any given time. Freenet is designed to provide a place that is censorship-resistant (content published onto Freenet CANNOT be simply "deleted") and protect the anonymity of the publishers and readers of the content. This kind of system is perfect in countries such as China and Iran, and due to the design of the network, Freenet has proven to be almost impossible to block (China was able to block the "Opennet" seednodes (known nodes with references to other users on the network), but is unable to block users from using "Darknet" (the Friend-2-Friend system)).
Why mention this in the United States, then? Why would this be important to someone here in the US where we have the First Amendment? The US, like many other "free" countries, are always finding ways to limit this right, and companies are always pushing laws that allow them to limit this right. Right now, the US is working on legislation that would make it easier to peek into your online activities. The DMCA was intended to help protect the the rights of persons and companies that hold Copyrights in the digital age. While I may not agree with Copyright at all, I can at least admit that in a world that deems Copyright as important, a system would need to be in place to protect it. Alright, fine.
But the issue of Copyright is not why I bring this up. I bring up the DMCA because it has been used by companies to attempt to take down content it does not like, such as unfavorable movie reviews, and in some cases, the DMCA take-down notice itself. It is one thing to use the DMCA to get videos on Youtube removed that use Copyrighted music without permission, but using it to suppress an opinion you do not like, and then try and cover it up is, in my opinion, a violation of Freedom of Speech. Not to mention the violation of your Fourth Amendment rights by US Border agents to search your laptops and other digital devices at the border, but I digress. There are other similar laws in the UK, Germany, and France as well, and some of them are worse. And with international legislation being worked on behind closed doors such as ACTA, though largely declawed in recent versions, networks such as Freenet are, to me, becoming more important every day.
I tried Freenet out a few years ago, thought it was a cool idea, and checked it out. I didn't have too much use for it at the time, and there wasn't much content. This year, however, I decided to check it out again for the reasons above. Freenet has grown a LOT in the few years I have been gone. It is faster, stronger, there is more content, every thing about it has improved. And it is still growing. Freenet still needs people willing to donate a portion of their harddrive for data storage and bandwidth to transfer it, but if you can't do that, they can use monetary donations as well. Freenet ESPECIALLY needs people willing to publish content to the network; Freesites, flogs, and files. Anything. Anything you can do to help out means a lot. I, myself, currently run a node at home with a 500GiB datastore that is always connected, I run it on my laptop (with only a 5GiB datastore), and I am donating $5/month to the project. I believe that this is something that can help keep people free, even if their governments do not permit them to be, and is a project worthy of your considerations.
However, I should also add that if you consider running a node, that you take extra security precautions such as strong passwords on your computer and encrypting the harddrive with TrueCrypt. Although all data stored on your computer and transfered by Freenet is encrypted, the keys are stored plain-text on the harddrive, and it never hurts to have this added layer of security. These are security measures I recommend even if you are not running Freenet.
So, if you are interested in Freenet, or want to know more, check out http://freenetproject.org/ . More information can also be found on Wikipedia.
- Bryan Wyatt (firstname.lastname@example.org)
19.10.2010 - 2h29
If freedom is to have any meaning at all beyond mere platitude, then it should be conceived of—and defended—as an absolute. If we are to have freedom of speech, then we must be willing and ready to defend that practise. This is an abstraction for most people, who either generate arbitrary boundaries ("free speech has its limits!") or cannot see their role in a transforming world. That, as Wyatt hints as, is the value of Freenet in a nominal democracy with nominal freedom of expression: it gives people a concrete means of participation.
It's become clear enough that there are major players at work attempting to limit what, where, and how we can express ourselves. There are people, I am certain, who do not like Freenet, and would very much like to shut it down. But our answer to a regime of closed content, walled gardens, takedown notices and diminished rights should be active defiance—the hallmark of a participatory republic. Because here's the thing: even if you don't take a position, the debate is not going to end. At best, bystanders will simply be ignored; at worst, they'll become collateral damage, like people scooped up in scattershot copyright infringement lawsuits. Either way, Wyatt's point is that you don't have to sit it out. Nearly fifty years ago (!), somebody said this:
Come mothers and fathers, throughout the land
And don't criticize what you can't understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command;
Your old road is rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.
It's tempting to think of the 1960s as a more turbulent time, because the issues they faced then were literally construed: a war in Indochina, the civil rights movement, the enfranchisement of America's youth. I don't wholly buy that. The current struggle is one over the changing face of the means of cultural production itself; we are taking a long, hard look at the consequences of a digital society. At the future of cut & mix creative expression, at the absurdity of artificial scarcity in a post-scarcity cultural ecosystem, at the state of our privacy and personal information when these have become commodities. These are major changes, not trivial ones, and they gain importance as more and more people join in.
I would venture to say that today we are navigating a society every bit as in turmoil as America was in the 1960s. Tracking cookies, the Pirate Bay, Tor—these are minor issues, just single fronts in a fight marked by a massive generational shift. We are talking about the changing nature of culture itself, and as a cultural economy the democratisation of its production and distribution is every bit as important as the democratisation of the franchise was. We demean both by pretending otherwise or downplaying the import of today's issues just because the new battleground is digital. We maybe struggling to negotiate this more egalitarian, more ephemeral world, it's true, but that world is our future. We can't escape that.
Freenet isn't the only way to participate. There are other technological-driven projects—and some that are more philosophical in import. I myself am a staunch devotee of the Creative Commons. But we would do well to mark Wyatt's essential point. There is a need for action out there, and, as citizens of a digital democracy, every one of us can take part.