The hidden internet
November 29th, 2009

Andy Beckett [bio] in The Guardian, November 26 : In the ‘deep web’, Freenet software allows users complete anonymity as they share viruses, criminal contacts and child pornography. What is Freenet?

‘The modern internet is often thought of as a miracle of openness – its global reach, its outflanking of censors, its seemingly all-seeing search engines. “Many many users think that when they search on Google they’re getting all the web pages,” says Anand Rajaraman, co-founder of Kosmix, one of a new generation of post-Google search engine companies. But Rajaraman knows different. “I think it’s a very small fraction of the deep web which search engines are bringing to the surface. I don’t know, to be honest, what fraction. [also see: this Blog posting on Kosmix’s Approach to the Deep Web.]

The internet has always been driven as much by a desire for secrecy as a desire for transparency. The network was the joint creation of the US defence department and the American counterculture – the WELL, [Wikipedia] one of the first and most influential online communities, was a spinoff from hippy bible the Whole Earth Catalog [history][Wikipedia] – and both groups had reasons to build hidden or semi-hidden online environments as well as open ones. (..)

There are still secretive parts of the internet where this unlikely alliance between hairy libertarians and the cloak-and-dagger military endures. The Onion Router, or Tor, is an American volunteer-run project [Wikipedia] that offers free software to those seeking anonymous online communication, like a more respectable version of Freenet. Tor’s users, according to its website, include US secret service “field agents” and “law enforcement officers . . . Tor allows officials to surf questionable websites and services without leaving tell-tale tracks,” but also “activists and whistleblowers”, for example “environmental groups [who] are increasingly falling under surveillance in the US under laws meant to protect against terrorism”. Tor, in short, is used both by the American state and by some of its fiercest opponents. On the hidden internet, political life can be as labyrinthine as in a novel by Thomas Pynchon.

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