[rumori] pho: The Philosophy behind Freenet

From: Don Joyce (djATwebbnet.com)
Date: Tue Mar 27 2001 - 13:16:02 PST

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>Subject: pho: The Philosophy behind Freenet
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>The Philosophy behind Freenet
>By Ian Clarke
>1. A Disclaimer
>There are many reasons why people get involved in the Freenet Project. Some
>share the views outlined in this document; some share variations of these
>views, which are also served by what we are trying to achieve; and some just
>enjoy the technical challenge. These are the ideas which motivated me to
>architect the system in the first place, but not necessarily the views that
>everyone involved in the Freenet project holds.
>2. Suggested prior reading
>For this document to make sense, you should probably know what Freenet is. You
>can get a good overview on the What is Freenet? page.
>3. The importance of the Free flow of information
>Freedom of speech, in most western cultures, is generally considered to be one
>of the most important rights any individual might have. Why is the freedom to
>share ideas and opinions so important? There are several ways to answer this
>3.1 Communication is what makes us human
>One of the most obvious differences between mankind and the rest of the animal
>kingdom is our ability to communicate sophisticated and abstract concepts.
>While we constantly discover that animal's communication ability is more
>sophisticated than previously assumed, it is unlikely that any other animal
>approaches our own level of ability in this area.
>3.2 Knowledge is good
>Most people, given the option of knowing something and not knowing something,
>will choose to have more information rather than less. Wars have been won and
>lost over who was better-informed. This is because being better-informed
>us to make better decisions, and generally improve our ability to survive and
>be successful.
>3.3 Democracy assumes a well informed population
>Many people today live under democratic governments, and those who don't,
>probably want to. Democracy is an answer to the question of how to create
>leaders, while preventing them from abusing that power. It achieves this by
>giving the population the power to regulate their government through voting,
>yet the ability to vote does not necessarily mean that you live in a
>country. For a population to regulate their government effectively it must
>what their government is doing, they must be well informed. It is a feedback
>loop, but this loop can be broken if the government has the power to control
>the information the population has access to.
>4. Censorship and freedom
>Everyone values their freedom, in fact, many consider it so important that
>will die for it. People like to think that they are free to form and hold
>whatever opinions they like, particularly in western countries. Consider now
>that someone had the ability to control the information you have access to.
>This would give them the ability to manipulate your opinions by hiding some
>facts from you, by presenting you with lies and censoring anything that
>contradicted those lies. This is not some Orwellian fiction, it is standard
>practice for most western governments to lie to their populations, so much so,
>that people now take it for granted, despite the fact that this undermines the
>very democratic principals which justify the government's existence in the
>first place.
>5. The solution
>The only way to ensure that a democracy will remain effective is to ensure
>the government cannot control its population's ability to share
>information, to
>communicate. So long as everything we see and hear is filtered, we are not
>truly free. Freenet's aim is to allow two or more people who wish to share
>information, to do so.
>6. Isn't censorship sometimes necessary?
>Of course no issue is black and white, and there are many who feel that
>censorship is a good thing in some circumstances. For example, in some
>countries propagating information deemed to be racist is illegal. Governments
>seek to prevent people from advocating ideas which are deemed damaging to
>society. There are two answers to this however. The first is that you can't
>allow those in power to impose "good" censorship, without also enabling
>them to
>impose "bad" censorship. To impose any form of censorship a government must
>have the ability to monitor and thus restrict communication. There are already
>criticisms that the anti-racism censorship in many European countries is
>hampering legitimate historical analysis of events such as the second world
>The second argument is that this "good" censorship is counter-productive even
>when it does not leak into other areas. For example, it is generally more
>effective when trying to persuade someone of something to present them
>with the
>arguments against it, and then answer those arguments. Unfortunately,
>preventing people from being aware of the often sophisticated arguments
>used by
>racists, makes them vulnerable to those arguments when they do eventually
>encounter them.
>Of course the first argument is the stronger one, and would still hold-true
>even if you didn't accept the second. Basically, you either have
>censorship, or
>you don't. There is no middle-ground.
>7. But why is anonymity necessary?
>You cannot have freedom of speech without the option to remain anonymous. Most
>censorship is retrospective, it is generally much easier to curtail free
>by punishing those who exercise it afterward, rather than preventing them from
>doing it in the first place. The only way to prevent this is to remain
>anonymous. It is a common misconception that you cannot trust anonymous
>information. This is not necessarily true, using digital signatures people can
>create a secure anonymous pseudonym which, in time, people can learn to trust.
>Freenet incorporates a mechanism called "subspaces" to facilitate this.
>8. And what of copyright?
>Of course much of Freenet's publicity has centered around the issue of
>copyright, and thus I will speak to it briefly. The core problem with
>is that enforcement of it requires monitoring of communications, and you
>be guaranteed free speech if someone is monitoring everything you say. This is
>important, most people fail to see or address this point when debating the
>issue of copyright, so let me make it clear:
>You cannot guarantee freedom of speech and enforce copyright law
>It is for this reason that Freenet, a system designed to protect Freedom of
>Speech, must prevent enforcement of copyright.
>9. But how will artists be rewarded for their work without copyright?
>Firstly, even if copyright were the only way that artists could be
>rewarded for
>their work, then I would contend that freedom is more important than having
>professional artists (those who claim that we would have no art do not
>understand creativity: people will always create, it is a compulsion, the only
>question is whether they can do it for a living).
>Secondly, it could be questioned whether copyright is effective even now. The
>music industry is one of the most vocally opposed to enhancements in
>communication technology, yet according to many of the artists who should be
>rewarded by copyright, it is failing to do so. Rather it has allowed
>to gain control over the mechanisms of distribution, to the detriment of both
>artists and the public.
>10. Alternatives to Copyright
>Fortunately it won't come to this. There are many alternative ways to reward
>artists. The simplest is voluntary payment. This is an extension of the
>patronage system which was frequently used to reward artists prior to
>copyright, where a wealthy person would fund an artist to allow them to create
>full-time. The Internet permits an interesting extension of this idea, where
>rather than having just one wealthy patron, you could have hundreds of
>thousands, contributing small amounts of money over the Internet.
>We actually practice what we preach in this regard too, on the 15th of March
>2001 the Freenet Project started taking donations, and within a week we had
>collected over $1000.
>11. More sophisticated approaches: Fairshare
>Of course some people ridicule this idea on the basis (I assume) that nobody
>would ever pay for something unless forced to do so (despite significant
>evidence to the contrary). While I disagree with their rather depressing
>outlook on humanity, there are more sophisticated mechanisms which do
>appeal to
>people's self-interest, such as "Fairshare", where people can buy in to
>much as a venture capitalist will buy into an idea they like, and if that
>artist is successful they will be rewarded in proportion to their original
>contribution. This has the nice effect of encouraging people to give more
>to obscure artists who they believe have potential. If their investment
>pay-off, then they still have the satisfaction that they contributed to an
>artist whose work they enjoy.
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