Pub Case Study

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Publius

Although many people believe that the World Wide Web is anonymous and secured from censorship, the reality is very different. Government, law courts, and other officials who want to censor, examine or trace a file of materials on the Web need merely go to the server (the online computer) where they think the file is stored. Using their subpoena power, they can comb through the server’s drives to find the files they are looking for and the identity of the person who created the files.

On Friday, June 30, 2000, however, researchers at AT&T Labs announced the creation Publius, a software program that enables Web users to encrypt (translate into a secret code) their files – text, pictures or music – break them up like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and store the encrypted pieces on many different servers scattered all over the globe on the World Wide Web. As a result, anyone wanting to examine or censor the files or wanting to trace the original transaction that produced the file would find it impossible to succeed because they would have to examine the contents of dozens of different servers all over the world, and the files in the servers would be encrypted and fragmented in a way that would make the pieces impossible to identify without the help of the person who created the file. A person authorized to retrieve the file, however, would look through a directory of his files posted on a Publius-affiliated website, and the Publius network would reassemble the file for him at his request. Researchers published a description of Publius at www.cs.nyu.edu/waldman/publius.

Although many people welcomed the way that the new software would enhance freedom of speech on the Web, many others were dismayed. Bruce Taylor, an antipornography activist for the National Law Center for Children and Families, stated “It’s nice to be anonymous, but who wants to be more anonymous than criminals, terrorists, child molesters, child pornographers, hackers, and email virus...
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