Will USENET Resurface as a Venue for Free Speech as the Web Becomes More Restricted?

October 13, 2014

USENET ResurfaceCourage.org is one of several sites that make an effort to provide a venue for people who would be described as whistleblowers to post information that may raise the ire of governments and corporations implicated in wrongdoing. The site is affiliated with EdwardSnowden.com, the man who is likely the most famous whistleblower in the world at present, having leaked information about a pervasive NSA spying scheme that was and is being run in the United States.

Websites like courage.org, WikiLeaks and others seek to provide a venue for free speech on the web and a safe place for people to share information that could get them in trouble if their identities were known. These are serious matters, as the ability of affected entities to retaliate – particularly in the case of governments – is significant and, in some nations, may actually extend to the point of disappearance, assassination or other criminal acts as a means of protecting secret information.

These websites, however, have some significant drawbacks. While they do provide an easy means for people to access leaked information, they also are easily surveilled by government agencies and, unless they’re using protection like a VPN, finding out who visits the site is not a particularly difficult endeavor for any organization with the technological expertise and equipment to do so, and there are many of them.

This does bring up the question of whether or not USENET could reassert itself as a source for free information. It is notoriously difficult to quash information on USENET and, it has one other significant advantage that stems from the fact that, over the years, it has become significantly less popular than the Internet as a means of sharing information.

Simple, but Misunderstood

Ask anyone who isn’t terribly familiar with USENET about the system and, at best, they’re likely to remember it from the 80s and 90s. Today, however, the USENET has become widely available through private companies that provide access, many of which offer SSL encryption as a means of protecting your privacy. Unlike Internet providers, many USENET providers include privacy protection as a basic part of their package. This makes it an ideal venue for sharing information that might be sensitive.

The USENET is also likely to appeal to people who want to conduct business off the beaten path. If that means sharing sensitive information as part of whistle blowing, this venerable network may prove itself more useful than ever.

As well-intentioned organizations try to encourage whistleblowers to go public with information that might threaten powerful interests, they may want to consider using USENET as a venue for doing so. It has many of the qualities that they’re looking for and it has proven itself over decades to be reliable, to be able to propagate information quickly and to be very hard to control for people who want to prevent the public from getting access to information that they should have.

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