Freenet is our answer to oppressive governments and corporate control. Though it’s actually 15 years old, Freenet’s time has arrived, in a big way. Freenet is a computer network designed from the ground up to protect your privacy and your freedom of expression. Many people early on viewed Freenet as a tool to liberate people in oppressive regimes like China. For these people, Freenet could re-open the free flow of information by avoiding China’s restriction. Recently however, Freenet shows additional utility in sidestepping corporate censorship even in relatively free countries. We also know that American intelligence agencies are actively involved in violating individuals’ right to privacy throughout the world. These two forces threaten your privacy and freedom of expression worldwide. Freenet is our tool to resist.
To protect your privacy and ensure your freedom of expression, Freenet’s network provides a distributed data store to computers on the network. Through Freenet, you can publish a website, videos, photos, songs, documents and statistics or any other data. There are also social media applications that exist only on Freenet, so you can say what you want, and truly be yourself. When you publish on Freenet, you can choose to keep your identity secret, and you can’t be censored. Freenet protects your privacy by anonymizing your requests for data on the Freenet network, and prevents censorship by storing data redundantly on different computers around the network.
Since Freenet is functionally a massive data storage system, Freenet supports two basic operations: “insert” and “fetch” data. When you insert a file into Freenet, Freenet encrypts it, chops it up into smaller pieces, and stores these pieces throughout the network. If you insert data into Freenet, and share a link with your friends, they are able to access that content even if your computer is off. In this way, publishing content is as simple as sharing a link! Since there are no servers to attack, and you are anonymous except if you choose not to be, you can express yourself freely! When you fetch a file from Freenet, your Freenet client software asks other computers on the network for the pieces it needs. The encrypted chunks of files cannot be decrypted by people who don’t have the link, so computers storing those chunks don’t really know what data they’re storing. This also means that when your computer asks another computer for a piece of data, the other computer doesn’t know exactly what data you’re retrieving unless they also have the link to it. The fact that your computer could end up temporarily storing content an encrypted copy of data you find offensive may make some people understandably uncomfortable.
Though all of us wish to express ourselves freely, we may find other people’s expression to be unacceptable. The price of our own free expression is accepting others’ free expression. Freenet does not allow you to censor other people’s expression with the benefit that they cannot censor yours. From a technical standpoint, either it is possible to censor everything, or it is not possible to censor anything. We aren’t able to pick and choose, without also allowing others to censor us. While the rest of the world errs on the side of limiting free expression, Freenet makes the opposite decision, to err on the side of free expression. In future articles I will address these moral and practical concerns, and detail why I accept this, and why I think you should too.
Freenet unites anti-censorship properties, strong privacy, and decentralization, to foster human liberation. For 15 years the Freenet project has developed and deployed software to support these goals. Now more so than 15 years ago, the world desperately needs forces for anti-censorship, strong privacy, and decentralization. I encourage you to join Freenet today, participate in its communities, and say “No!” to censorship. If you’re able, I also ask you to contribute to the project. Freenet is driven by volunteer effort and community contributions. You may imagine that I mean you should write code or donate money. I do suggest you do these things if you are able. Freenet Project Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization so monetary donations are tax-deductable, but there exist many, many other opportunities to help. Simply by filing bug reports, writing documentation, helping others troubleshoot the software, inviting friends, or even just by participating in the network you fight to liberate yourself, and people around the world. If we wait to embrace Freenet until after we need it to escape an Orwellian dystopia, it will be far too late. It’s imperative that we make free communication ubiquitous long before we need it.