The Moral Issues of Freenet and Online File Sharing

The Moral Issues of Freenet and Online File Sharing

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The Moral Issues of Freenet and Online File Sharing

The internet today is a vast network that contains nearly limitless amounts of information and media. With this immense amount of data at our fingertips, the line between right and wrong has begun to blur. The illegal downloading of copyrighted material has exploded in recent years, but a larger issue looms over the current
copyrighting frenzy. It is that of the preservation of free speech in cyberspace. Should the government be allowed to limit our access to "unsuitable content"? And to what degree? These are not easy questions to answer, nor should they be. Similar questions have been raised throughout history. Freenet is a program that has been developed to provide an answer to the aforementioned question with a definite no. The following essay will explain what Freenet is and how it fits into the free speech debate and future of the internet. In this essay I will discuss the following:

•A quick history of free speech on the Internet
•An explanation of Freenet
•How Freenet functions
•Freenet's role in the future progression of the digital age
•The illegal usage of Freenet

Free Speech and the Internet

The first amendment to the constitution reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." (Constitution) We as Americans have the right to speak our minds. We are able to criticize the government and voice our opinions in the form of voting and political debate. This is not only a right, it is vital for the survival of our country. The internet is no stranger to free speech debates. In early 1996 the Communications Decency Act was passed. This act prevented "indecent" and "patently offensive" content which included profanity and many works of classic literature that contained such material. No less than 6 months later, the CDA was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. In 1997 the Supreme Court granted the Internet full protection under the 1" amendment entitling it the same freedoms of print media. Two sides are now battling on a new front: the abuse of 1" amendment in cyber space through the exchange of illegal material. I will discuss this issue in more detail later.

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(Communication Decency Act)

What is Freenet?

Freenet is free, downloadable software that enables users to exchange information across a decentralized network without worrying about censorship. Although there are many people involved with the project, its upstart is mainly credited to Ian Clarke and
Oskar Sandberg. Freenet is described as an "internet within the internet". (The Freenet Project) All users are completely anonymous and files are dispersed among them without any traceable source. Freenet is constructed by placing nodes in every computer on the network. Each computer contributes part of its hard drive space and bandwidth to the network. Files are stored randomly on nodes across the network and may move from computer to computer during their existence on the network. This makes it more difficult to locate files, but ensures that no one file can be traced to the person that provided it or the person that is using it. (Clarke) How does this differ from other p2p file sharing programs? Traditionally these programs have all used a centralized location to store or route all uploaded and downloaded content. This method makes it easy to see who has been doing what and prevent them from doing so. Freenet is limited to storing only the amount of information that can fit onto all of the nodes. This means that the more users Freenet has, the more information it can provide them. It utilizes a system of holding onto more popular files and discarding less popular ones to manage large amounts of information on limited space. (Clarke) One downside to using Freenet is that it is not particularly user friendly. Complaints about the interface include that only tech savvy users can really utilize it although as it evolves so will it's usability.

The Future of Freenet

Freenet is poised to change the way that we access and trade information. Rob Raisch, chief analyst for the consulting firm said, "If this takes off, then the (record industry) and (movie industry) are swiftly moving into a world where they have
no hope of curbing what they see as a rampant misuse of technology." (Borland) Never before have we had the ability retain privacy while communicating on such a large scale. Freenet's future is uncertain. It may not ever gain the support needed to become successful. Interface problems, the devotion of disk space, and the sacrifice of internet speed may prevent it from gaining enough of a following to develop. Even more, it may be deemed as more of a burden than a help to society. Only time will tell.

The Dark Side of Freenet

A balance exists between the free flow of ideas and information and the exchange of offensive material. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to limit one without affecting the other in some way. One of the difficulties lies in the definition of offensive. What offends one person may come off as trivial to another. How then do we attempt to provide a universal answer to the problem at hand? Throughout history social standards of right and wrong have evolved and changed continuously. Many things that were deemed as inappropriate fifty years ago are acceptable by today's standards. This is the heart of the free speech on the internet debate. Freenet allows a safe place for the anonymous exchange of information. Anonymity is an important concern of Freenet. Individuals are often persecuted for reading and providing controversial documents. Although it doesn't seem as relevant in our western society, this is a huge issue in other parts of the world. China, for example, suffers from heavy government censorship. Freenet is reportedly being used to communicate information that their government prefers to hide. (Jardin) This also provides anonymity for wrong doers. Critics of Freenet accuse it of being simply a haven for copyrighted material exchange and child
pornographers. While there is merit in this accusation, Freenet is more than just a network of illegalities and filth. Many people thought the same of the internet when it first began. Like many other things, the ideal behind Freenet is a great one: freedom of expression from censorship. But that is just that, an ideal. The reality of the matter is
that along with the benefits of such a network, inevitable pitfalls still exist, as they always will. The question in the end is do the negative aspects of Freenet outweigh the benefits. What is the cost of our right to speak freely and what is its worth?


Freenet is a decentralized that is devoted to the free exchange of ideas and information. There is a downside to this technology in that it can be used for illegal purposes. Freenet is currently in the middle of a free speech debate and claims to be intended strictly in the interest of free speech. If the necessary support for Freenet is generated, it will lead us into a new future where the freedom of speech is still a right all of human kind is able to share information without fear of reprimand.


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