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F & F


Ian Clarke on Freenet and his Decision to Leave the USA
posted by mpawlo on Tuesday September 02, @01:12AM
from the freedom-fighters dept.
Civil Liberties In a comment on Slashdot, Freenet creator Ian Clarke announced he has decided to leave the USA. Freenet is a 'A Distributed Decentralised Information Storage and Retrieval System' used by citizens of oppressive regimes to retreive information from all over the world. At the time of the announcement, it appeared Clarke made his decision following a former Intel engineer pleading guilty to Taliban aid. Greplaw has picked Ian Clarke's brain.

# Who is Ian Clarke?

I am the founder and coordinator of the Freenet Project, CEO of Cematics LLC, founder of Locutus, and creator of the WhittleBit search engine. I am formerly the CTO of Uprizer Inc, and have also worked in the space industry as a consultant for Logica PLC in the UK. I am a graduate of Edinburgh University and hold a degree in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence.

# What is Freenet?

Freenet is free software designed to provide a forum where information can be published and consumed without fear of censorship. It does this by providing a completely decentralized, and robust way that people can publish and read information anonymously. Freenet grew out of a paper I wrote while still a student at Edinburgh University.

# How did you come up with the idea to Freenet?

I was very interested in an area called "emergent systems". Examples of emergent systems would include ant colonies, bee hives, and flocks of birds. Emergent systems are characterized by a large number of similar or identical components, individually relatively simple in their operation, but which exhibit sophisticated behavior when enough of them are aggregated together and permitted to interact. I was interested to find a way that an emergent architecture could be applied to solve a real-world problem, and ensuring freedom of communication was well suited to this. I spent about a year developing the theory behind Freenet's operation before testing my ideas with simulations. The results of those simulations were promising, and eventually this resulted in the collaborative development effort that became Freenet.

# Has Freenet actually helped someone?

Indeed it has, Freenet is in active use in countries such as China to permit the free distribution of information there despite government censorship. A group, Freenet-China has taken Freenet and translated it to Chinese for this very purpose. Freenet is also actively used in other countries, including the United States, to distribute censored information such as the Church of Scientology "Operating Thetan" documents. Freenet has been download by over 2,000,000 people.

# When I spoke to Phil Zimmermann he told me that the September 11-attacks made him think his decision to release PGP as freeware over. However, he reached the conclusion that it was right to release PGP and that society is better off with strong encryption. Have you had the same thoughts regarding Freenet?

No, not for a second. I have a deep conviction that the freedom to communicate is absolutely essential to human progress. This conviction was forged during my youth growing up during quite turbulent times in Ireland, during which I learned that terrorism is not a product of freedom, it is a symptom of the absence of freedom and understanding. Censorship is the enemy of freedom and understanding, and therefore the friend of terrorism.

# As far as I understand it, Freenet is an information sharing tool like the world wide web with added anonymity. When will Freenet replace the Web as the first choice of turf?

Freenet is currently much slower than the world wide web, and it will never be able to do some of the things the WWW can do - such as interact with the user. Having said that, Freenet is a pretty effective and scalable way to distribute large files and it is immune to "denial of service" attacks, so it is certainly useful beyond its primary goal of permitting anonymous information distribution.

# Freenet has some grim implications for certain policy makers wanting to stop indecent material or criminal activities online. Can you explain to them why the benefits of Freenet exceed the costs?

Free speech doesn't exist if people are only free to say what you consider to be decent or true. Few would tolerate the mandatory installation of police cameras in private homes, even though it could prevent all forms of child abuse, and domestic violence. Are those that might oppose such a scheme to be considered advocates of child abuse? The rationale behind Freenet is discussed in more detail on our philosophy page.

# Why did you decide to leave the U.S.?

Several reasons really. Firstly, because the work I am doing now doesn't really require me to be in any particular location, I could probably work from the North Pole if I had a fast Internet connection. Secondly, because I don't like living in a country where, as a non-citizen, I am considered less deserving of justice than American citizens. Thirdly, because I feel that the direction intellectual property is being taken in this country, such as with the DMCA and software patents, make innovation much more difficult and risky here, particularly in the P2P space. There are many things I like about the US, but it just doesn't make sense to be here any more.

# What was wrong with the Mike Hawash situation?

I am not an expert on that particular situation, however I was concerned that some people didn't appear to recognize that a guilty plea made under duress is no more valid than the confessions of guilt extracted from American POWs during the Vietnam war.

# Have you actually left already or are you about to change your mind?

I will be leaving in early October, I have no intention of changing my mind.

# In this globalized world, does it actually matter where you reside as long as you are in a Western democracy?

If the US was acting as a Western democracy should in this regard, then perhaps, but unfortunately it is not.

# Cory Doctorow commented on your decision to leave the U.S: 'America is losing an important thinker and toolsmith in Ian (and no doubt, many other Ians are being scared off without the same fanfare). It's a shame that he violated Godwin's Law when he wrote his goodbye letter, as it gives those who would distract us from the real issue here a handy red herring to toss into the fray, i.e., pointless arguments about the appropriateness of a comparison to Nazi Germany.'

Do you agree and did you invoke Godwin's Law?

Cory and I had an interesting discussion as a result of this. Cory actually agreed that my comparison was apt, but went on to argue that comparisons with Nazi Germany should never be made as it can distract from the real issue. I believe that it is essential that we never forget what happened in Nazi Germany, and that it is never repeated. As a result, I would much rather that comparisons were drawn too frequently than not frequently enough.

# Would you rephrase yourself as to why you are leaving the U.S. follow Cory Doctorow's observation?

Unfortunately Cory mischaracterized that quotation - although I don't think he did it deliberately. It certainly was not a "goodbye letter", it was an off-the-cuff remark during a heated debate about Mike Hawash, and it was taken out of context. I had no desire for my departure from the US to attract such attention, and as-such the only thing I would change is that I might have posted the comment about Nazi Germany anonymously.

# What changes to U.S. policy would you like to see in order to stay / go back?

Moving to a different country is an expensive and traumatic experience, so I would only go through the trouble of returning to the US if there was a very good reason - not just the absence of reasons not to. I will be moving to Edinburgh in Scotland which is a beautiful city, and I suspect it will be difficult for anyone to persuade me to leave once I am settled in :-)

# I understand Freenet was a school project and that you got a B. Who got the A that year?

No idea ;-)

Ian Clarke was interviewed by Mikael Pawlo.

Sherman Austin Interview | Few Virus Creators Face Penalties  >


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Related Links
  • Intel
  • Slashdot
  • Freenet Project
  • CEO of Cematics LLC
  • Locutus
  • WhittleBit search engine
  • Freenet-China
  • I spoke to Phil Zimmermann
  • more detail on our philosophy page
  • the Mike Hawash situation
  • Cory Doctorow commented on your decision
  • Mikael Pawlo
  • comment on Slashdot
  • More on Civil Liberties
  • Also by mpawlo
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    Ian Clarke on Freenet and his Decision to Leave the USA | Login/Create an Account | Top | 22 comments | Search Discussion
    The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.
    The reasons why US needs "Freedom" (Score:0)
    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 02, @04:44PM (#1112)
    He is right about the Patriot Act I & II. And the DCMA. And the lack of freedom in the US and the very reasons. Why does the EU need software patents? To harmonize with the US Pat. Office.... Empire, state building? SIR You say that American military and nation-building intervention in other countries is likely to be short, because imperialism and democracy are at odds with each other "Manifest destiny warmed up", August 16th). In the end democracy will win because the subjects will protest and so, eventually, will Americans. Your argument misses the economic face of empire. Over the past three decades, America's government, particularly the Clinton administration, has constructed an international monetary and financial framework which ensures that the normal working of market forces shores up American power. The framework yields disproportionate benefits to Americans and confers autonomy on its economic policymakers while curbing the autonomy of all others . It provides the material basis of American military supremacy. The key political feature of the system is that it is not an empire in the sense of an imperial centre and colonies. It is based on "sovereign" states. These states can be left to manage the costs of the system, including the protests of those whose lives are disrupted by it. This is how the modern-day empire can quietly escape the trade-off between imperialism and democracy, most of the time. Robert Hunter Wade London School of Economics London http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm? story_id=2020866
    [ Parent ]
    What a great loss! (Score:0)
    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, @08:06AM (#1123)
    I am not an expert on that particular situation, however I was concerned that some people didn't appear to recognize that a guilty plea made under duress is no more valid than the confessions of guilt extracted from American POWs during the Vietnam war. Oh, so is this genius (who admits he is not an expert on the case) alleging that the US tortured, starved, threatened with death daily, and otherwise brutalized this traitor? Of course we didn't. We applied "duress" by showing him that we had enough evidence to convict him of the crimes we charged him with. He then pled guilty (and accepted major time) and agreed to testify against his co-conspirators. This asshat seems to make one false comparison after another (confession of guilty scumbag=POW beaten-out confession, US prosecution of terrorist=Nazi Germany). Oh, and I love how when a US citizen who takes up arms against the US, gets caught, and pleads guilty to treason, we have become like Nazi Germany. Truth be told, many more parallels can be drawn between the EU and Stalin's USSR than can be drawn between the US and Germany. But then you kind of like ethnic purges, state ownership of all property, and staggering corruption in your government, don't you? But don't let the doorknob stick in your buttcrack. You may find that good old Scotland is not so good when you pay a 70% marginal tax rate, your nation's sovereignty is rolled by the unelected EU government, and those oh-so-warm-and-fuzzy terrorists decide that you must convert to Islam or die. As far as you "talent" goes, I've seen better code out of high school students in VB. No loss for the US, just for the US-haters.
    [ Parent ]
    Not Much Lost by Ian moving physically (Score:0)
    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, @05:03PM (#1142)
    Yes, it's too bad that Ian's decided that things are too ugly here to stay, and the people in the city Ian was living in are losing a bit of interactivity with him, which is too bad. But just because Ian's body is on the other side of the pond doesn't mean he's, like, OFF THE NET or anything SERIOUS. He'll need to make some local friends, and his current local friends won't see him as often, but the same happens any time somebody changes cities. Besides, with Edinburgh weather, he'll probably be spending more time inside on the net... and if he wants California-like weather, there's still Australia.
    [ Parent ]
    The real reason why he's leaving... (Score:0)
    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, @05:09PM (#1144)
    If you believe what his supposed reason is for leaving, you're out of your mind. The real reason why he's leaving is that he ran out of the money. His startup, Uprizer, failed miserably and his new company is not doing any better either. This is simply a more "gloriuos" way to leave. Simple as that!
    [ Parent ]

    Humanity has the stars in its future, and that future is too important to be lost under the burden of juvenile folly and ignorant superstition. - Isaac Asimov

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