Ian Clarke Interviewed

Zeropaid: So Media Enforcer says there is a hole in Freenet’s much-touted anonymity features. I thought Freenet was open-source, meaning hundreds of thousands of people have picked it apart. What’s the deal?

Ian Clarke: Well, I think you hit the nail on the head there. We have been very open about how Freenet works, in fact we have done our best to help people understand it. Over 300,000 people have looked at our design and architecture, among them some well-respected experts in computer security and crypto, and none of them have found any fundamental flaws. Because of this it does seem a little arrogant of “media enforcer” to claim that he alone has found a flaw in the system. It is also rather suspicious that he won’t back-up his claim on the basis that we would simple adapt Freenet accordingly. This smells of someone trying to grab some headlines as the person who “cracked” Freenet, yet he is unwilling (or more likely – unable) to prove it.

Zeropaid: What is Freenet to you? Are you hoping to make a business out of this?

I.C.: Freenet is an expression of my idealogical position on information, which is that nobody should be able to restrict people’s ability to communicate. In the past, censorship has allowed governments to manipulate their electorates to perform the most hideous of crimes (just look at Hitler!). Rather than allowing governments to have this power, surely it is better that people decide for themselves what is true, and what is false.

Zeropaid: Do you have a “real job”? If so, what?

I.C.: I am a consultant developer for a small E-Commerce company called Instil

Zeropaid: Do you feel that your operation would encounter opposition if it were based in the states?

I.C.: I don’t know – I have been surprised by the lack of interest in Freenet in the UK as compared to the crazyness in the US. I think I would probably have been overwhelmed by journalists by now if I lived in the US!

Zeropaid: My belief is that Freenet must become functionally as easy to use as, say, Scour if it is ever to be a truly useful tool. Why is Freenet so hard to use for the average joe?

I.C.: The thing people must remember is that Freenet is a very complex system, and it is still under development. When we have implemented most of the features we think Freenet needs, we will make it as easy to use as systems like Napster and Gnutella.

Zeropaid: In basic language, explain why Freenet is the best file sharing app out there.

I.C.: Two reasons:
1) It is much more efficient, and bandwidth friendly, than any other mechanism for distributing information, whether the WWW, Napster, or Gnutella.

2) It provides its users with anonymity.

Zeropaid: Lately, .vbs worm files have been floating around on gnutellanet, (not so)cleverly disguised as mp3s or other file formats. Is there any protection for this type or thing on Freenet?

I.C.: Anyone who runs an insecure computer program on their computer is asking for trouble. This is really something for Microsoft to sort out, not us.

Zeropaid: Anonymity is the ultimate prize for Warez traders, isn’t Freenet going to be a haven for people like this? Your design has the potential to alter the way the world sees intellectual property, and the world economy. What does that mean to you?

I.C.: I think that the whole idea of information as property needs to change. Information can no-longer be treated like property. If you have a piece of gold, and I want it, I must deprive you of it so that I might have it. With information, I can copy it from you, you still have it, yet I can benefit from it too. Even in these simple terms, it is clear that information is different from what we conventionally view as property. Freenet drives this fact home to people, and so I hope it will be useful for making this point.

Zeropaid: What about bogus files? I hate to say it, but this could be a quick and dirty but quite final solution for copyright holders such as the RIAA. If you have to wade through 50 fake Metallica songs to get to one real one, how many people are going to remain in the community?

I.C.: Two words – digital signatures. Someone can indicate that a file can be trusted by applying their digital signature to it. They don’t even need to reveal their identity to do this, but can use an anonymous “pseudonym”. This way, someone could build up a reputation for being trustworthy, while remaining anonymous – I think this is the best way to address the issue of trust on systems like Freenet.