nettime's roving reporter on 30 Jun 2000 19:25:42 -0000

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<nettime> Another anonymous publishing scheme

[After Freenet ( another anonymous
publishing scheme, this time from AT&T Labs which is running a limited two
months test of the system right now. There is also a Washington Post
article on this at ]


Publius is a Web publishing system that is highly resistant to censorship
and provides publishers with a high degree of anonymity. Publius was the
pen name used by the authors of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton,
John Jay, and James Madison. This collection of 85 articles, published
pseudonymously in New York State newspapers form October 1787 through May
1788, was influential in convincing New York voters to ratify the proposed
United States constitution. 

___Why this is important___
The publication of written words has long been a tool for spreading new
(and sometimes controversial) ideas, often with the goal of bringing about
social change. Thus the printing press, and more recently, the World Wide
Web, are powerful revolutionary tools. But those who seek to suppress
revolutions possess powerful tools of their own. These tools give them the
ability to stop publication, destroy published materials, or prevent the
distribution of publications. And even if they cannot successfully censor
the publication, they may intimidate and physically or financially harm the
author or publisher in order to send a message to other
would-be-revolutionaries that they would be well advised to consider an
alternative occupation. Even without a threat of personal harm, authors may
wish to publish their works anonymously or pseudonymously because they
believe they will be more readily accepted if not associated with a person
of their gender, race, ethnic background, or other characteristics.

___How it works___
Our system consists of publishers who post Publius content to the web,
servers who host random-looking content, and retrievers who browse Publius
content on the web. At present the system supports any static content such
as HTML pages, images, and other files such as postscript, pdf, etc.
Javascript also works. We assume that there is a static, system-wide list
of available servers. Publius content is encrypted by the publisher and
spread over some of the web servers. In our current system, the set of
servers is static. The publisher takes the key, K that is used to encrypt
the file and splits it into n shares, such that any k of them can reproduce
the original K, but k-1 give no hints as to the key. Each server receives
the encrypted Publius content and one of the shares. At this point, the
server has no ideawhat it is hosting -- it simply stores some random
looking data. To browse content, a retriever must get the encrypted Publius
content from some server and k of the shares. Mechanisms are in place to
detect if the content has been tampered with. The publishing process
produces a special URL that is used to recover the data and the shares. The
published content is cryptographically tied to the URL, so that any
modification to the content or the URL results in the retriever being
unable to find the information, or a failed verification. In addition to
the publishing mechanism, we provide a way for publishers (and nobody else)
to update or delete their Publius content. Publius also provides a way to
publish several files at once and to publish mutually hyperlinked material.

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