Privacy & Censorship Resistance Without Decentralization

A new algorithm for transmitting and storing data via the cloud such that the cloud provider cannot identify the data being transmitted or stored

VPNs and Tor are well known tools for online privacy and censorship resistance. Bittorrent and other peer-to-peer networks use decentralization to fight against censorship. Newer blockchain based technologies like IPFS, Steemit and DTube also rely on decentralization to provide censorship resistance.

What is Censorship?

Censorship is a political issue. What free speech rights do individuals have? What rights do other individuals, corporations, and governments have to obstruct the free speech rights of others?

Do governments have the right to censor the mass media to maintain public order? Do private corporations have the right to censor the users of their platforms to maximize their profits or to promote their own political ideologies and objectives?

In a world with a global network that allows users from one country to access servers and data in another country which country’s laws apply?

These questions are very complex and they are usually only asked when people come into conflict so the arguments for what constitutes “legitimate” and “illegitimate” speech are often self-serving.

What is Censorship Resistance?

While it may not be possible to agree on a universal definition of censorship we can define from a technical perspective the properties that make a platform censorship resistant.

  1. Individuals should be free to publish data without constraint.
  2. The platform operator should have no ability to review data or block the publishing of data based on its content.
  3. The platform operator should not be able to delete data based on its content.
  4. The platform operator should not be able to block the transmission of data based on its content.
  5. All users should be able to use the platform anonymously and without any record of the data they publish or access being recorded.

The abstract term “data” is used here and this data could be text, audio, video or any other digitized media.

Designing a Censorship Resistant Platform

There are no online platforms (that I am aware of) that provide censorship resistance at a technical level, where censorship is technically impossible, even if they espouse censorship resistance as a policy.

Decentralization can provide practical censorship resistance but it does not solve the problem. Instead of having one platform operator with the power to censor you have a lot of smaller platform operators with the power to censor, so the probability of censorship is reduced, but it is not eliminated.

To really achieve censorship resistance it must be done at a technical level so that it will work even with a centralized platform. The technical solution that will work for a centralized platform will also work for a decentralized platform so decentralized platforms can be made even stronger.

I set out to design a censorship resistant platform because I believe that it is dangerous to allow any private corporation or individual to have the power to censor private speech. I believe that online platforms should empower their users, not their owners, and in order for this to happen censorship resistance must be a feature of the software that runs online platforms.

The Ciph Platform and Algorithm

The Ciph platform implements the five properties of censorship resistance. The key to this implementation is an algorithm that builds on end-to-end encryption and randomly mixes the blocks of data stored on the platform so that no one block of data belongs to any one user or file.

You can read the full Provisional Patent Application on Ciph. Or Watch a Short Video on Privacy on Ciph.

The Ciph platform is still rough around the edges but it is here today and working now.

Publishing on Ciph requires our Command Line Client but we are working on a desktop GUI client now. All of our software, including the software that runs our servers, is open source.

We welcome feedback and contributions.

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