A few weeks ago I spoke to Andy Beckett of The Guardian in the UK, he was writing an article about “the darknet”, and wanted to talk to me about Freenet. I was quite pleased about this because when I’m in the UK the Guardian is by far my favorite newspaper.
We had a good conversation, I talked about the original motivation behind Freenet (read about it here), our challenges, like balancing the very theoretical issues we face with the need to write software that non-techies can use, and other things.
At one point he mentioned the dangers of “bad” uses of Freenet, but he did so in a very coy almost apologetic way. I immediately assumed he was thinking of child pornography, and made it pretty clear that I was more than happy to discuss that, indeed of the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with journalists about Freenet over the past 10 years, I can’t think of one where I didn’t discuss the CP issue!
I told him what I tell everyone, which is that like most people I wish CP didn’t exist, but there are many ways to get it other than Freenet, and I don’t think people should be denied the freedom to communicate just because a small minority might use it for something we don’t agree with.
My impression at the time was that he really wanted to get off the subject, which I thought was a bit surprising since journalists love controversy, and there are few things as controversial as child porn.
Anyway, Google Alerts just told me that the article has appeared on the Guardian’s website (skip to the bottom for the link).
Overall I think it was quite a good article, I was particularly excited to read:
Installing the software takes barely a couple of minutes and requires minimal computer skills
I think Andy may be the first mainstream journalist in the history of Freenet to actually install and use the software before writing about it!
I was a little surprised that it did focus almost exclusively on the negatives implications of an absolutist “free communication” philosophy. For example the subtitle is:
In the ‘deep web’, Freenet software allows users complete anonymity as they share viruses, criminal contacts and child pornography
I was neither surprised nor annoyed that a journalist would want to talk about computer viruses, criminals, and child porn, after all - controversy attracts clicks and lets face it, our newspapers need all the help they can get attracting revenue these days. Further, it is perfectly legitimate to talk about the fact that freedom of communication implies freedom for people to communicate data and ideas we don’t like.
I was a little surprised, however, that Andy didn’t seem terribly interested in discussing these issues when we spoke by phone – even though I made it very clear that I was happy to and I even tried to steer the conversation in that direction.
Regardless of this slight surprise, I haven’t yet noticed any major errors in it, at least no errors on Andy’s part (although the [sic] after the American spelling of “pedophile” is not exactly in the spirit of cross-Atlantic harmony). I am curious about how he knew I was a pasty teenager (although he was quite right)! Not so much now that I’ve been living in Texas for a few years.
I did find this interesting though:
According to the police, for criminal users of services such as Freenet, the end is coming anyway. The PCeU spokesman says, “The anonymity things, there are ways to get round them, and we do get round them.
If, by “the anonymity things” they are referring to stuff like simple referrers, or even just using your browser in “incognito” mode, then they are correct. But if they are referring to technologies like Freenet and Tor – then either they are mistaken, lying, or they know something about Freenet and Tor that neither I, nor anyone I’ve ever met or heard from, has discovered. This is extremely unlikely, I know many of the best security people in the world, and none of them work for the British police.
This isn’t to say that identifying a user of software like Freenet or Tor is impossible, but it would require either an impractical expenditure of resources (bugging computers, etc), or for the user to do something like accidentally disclosing their identity on Freenet. We can guard against many things, but we can’t guard against stupidity :-)
Anyway, as I said its a pretty good article, and despite its focus on the negative – it will hopefully bring some new users to Freenet. Read it here: The dark side of the internet