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Peer-to-Peer by Andy Oram

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Chapter 10. Red Rover

Alan Brown, Red Rover

The success of Internet-based distributed computing will certainly cause headaches for censors. Peer-to-peer technology can boast populations in the tens of millions, and the home user now has access to the world’s most advanced cryptography. It’s wonderful to see those who turned technology against free expression for so long now scrambling to catch up with those setting information free. But it’s far too early to celebrate: What makes many of these systems so attractive in countries where the Internet is not heavily regulated is precisely what makes them the wrong tool for much of the world.

Red Rover was invented in recognition of the irony that the very people who would seem to benefit the most from these systems are in fact the least likely to be able to use them. A partial list of the reasons this is so includes the following:

The delivery of the client itself can be blocked

The perfect stealth device does no good if you can’t obtain it. Yet, in exactly those countries where user secrecy would be the most valuable, access to the client application is the most guarded. Once the state recognized the potential of the application, it would not hesitate to block web sites and FTP sites from which the application could be downloaded and, based on the application’s various compressed and encrypted sizes, filter email that might be carrying it in.

Possession of the client is easily criminalized

If a country is serious enough about curbing ...

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