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"First Amendment File Sharing"

It took a few years for MP3s to finally hit the bigtime, but now of course you just can't avoid it. It's in all the popular mags, and in all the shows on TV, and now you even see how-to diagrams in the newspaper, explaining the differences between programs like Napster and Gnutella. Scary.

Music artists are taking sides, record labels are stalling, college kids are pissed off, sysadmins are taking defensive actions, pundits are in full spin with their trash (that they learned over the weekend while being briefed for this latest chance at publicity). This just proves how silly the public and media can be, and what sort of bomb needs to be dropped in order to realize that things like copyright law have to be changed. Sadly, we haven't even gotten to THAT point yet. Who is suggesting that copyright law be changed? The media and buzz aren't. They're still on the novelty stage.

We haven't even begun to be sick of this.

What's kind of interesting are the programs that are countering the file sharing programs. Someone apparently coded an app that lets anyone monitor the Napster and Gnutella networks to see which files are being downloaded. So effectively you can monitor how many people are requesting Smashing Pumpkins songs or whatever. The author limited the software since he didn't feel exposing people was the important thing, but nothing would stop others from removing this restriction.

There's nothing keeping people from developing more malignant software, either.

Sysadmins apparently have a program or two now that can monitor network traffic and weed out the file sharing traffic that can bring their schools' or businesses' connections to a crawl. You already had that rash of schools shutting down Napster use after litigation was threatened upon them.

Right now most of the open sourcers/IRCers/etc. proudly claim that you'll never be able to shut down file sharing with the assumption that it'll always be safe and anonymous. I agree with that for the most part, since really most people just want to get their music and don't really care to sabotage the community or make it less useful or pleasant, since that'd have a negative impact on their own attempts to get files. It's kind of in everyone's best interest to contribute.

There's some network out there (I believe it's freeserve?) that encodes files before sending them out, so voyeurs don't know what's being passed along or something like that. I think this is a reasonable avenue for file sharing utilities to follow. Encrypt the files, make them unidentifiable, and pass them along, to be decrypted by the client. It would of course use a distributed network so that no centralized server could be attacked/threatened by pro-record label pigs or record label pigs themselves.

An exciting extension of all that is what this Soapbox is about. I thought about how individuals could go about ensuring their safety should they come into the possession of sensitive data that could cause them harm or that needs to be verifiable for their authorship. A program could be coded that would essentially allow you to "FAN the flames", a sort of First Amendment Network.

Essentially the network would encourage volunteers to share data that's distributed to it by other users. The best way to explain is to use an example: take, for instance, someone who needs to whistle-blow on an organization that is looking to silence him. This may sound like an extreme case, but if you think about it, the true volunteers to the network would be serious organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation or ACLU or whatever. Or even a government foundation with the resources to archive everything sent to it. So the person wants to release his information in such a way that it might not be decrypted for everyone to read, but at least distributed so that it couldn't be completely wiped out or silenced.

He could send the important information via an encrypted format and either have it timed for a decryption date or manually allow it himself. The volunteers would all receive his file and keep it for a given amount of time (with compression, bigger storage capacities, and ample bandwidth, this wouldn't be a problem) and would serve as safe hosts for the information, giving the person some more security now that the file can be revealed whenever needed.

Other uses for FANning could be verifying that someone discovered or created something first, having multiple verification sources. Or instant information distribution for breaking news that didn't need decryption. It could be used to verify results of competitions or binding contracts or anything else that one source might want to eliminate.

The volunteers' IP addresses would not be logged. Surely the servers could be modified to try to log addresses, so maybe some anonymizer proxy services would need to be employed or something. But then, that's not 100% certain to last either.

An index of files could be made available for other volunteers to download, with descriptions as pertinent as the author chooses. Game demos, music, movie trailers, etc. could hit the network. Individuals like you or me may choose to become a dump site for this info. Virus scanning in the server and client would be mandatory.

The need for all this stems from somewhat of an inability for small or unknown sources to get their information out in the open. You can contact a news organization or maybe put up a web site, or whatever, but it's still not fast enough and the results are either not guaranteed or not safe. The FAN would let you get the info you have out there on many unrelated and independent unknown hosts, making it virtually impossible to ever contain that information after it's hit the FAN.

It would be a new weapon for the First Amendment. The weapon of instant and secure information distribution. This builds on the ideas of open source and the Internet, and applies it to protecting the authors of the files who contribute to the FAN.

Surely there is potential for abuse, but that's the whole thing about the First Amendment. As long as everyone is able to express himself and is not silenced somewhere along the way, the residual garbage is more palatable.

Anyway, it's just a thought. If I had something I needed to make sure was distributed quickly and securely, I'm not sure what I would do. I could ask different people off IRC but that might take them and would probably receive some resistance. Putting it on my web site wouldn't do much since no one would know where to go (and no one visits my site anyway, heh) to get it.

Maybe someone will steal this idea, or come across it later (probably will take a year or two, since everyone's so slow to pick up on file/information sharing). Proof that I got this idea first (or among the first) exists only in two places as of right now. On my hard drive and on my web server's hard drive. What if it could reach hundreds of servers run by legit orgs in no time?

Or has someone thought of this already? :P

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