Former Piratebay Spokesperson and web entrepreneur Peter Sunde has started a new project—to offer a decentralised domain name system (DNS) for the web, outside of governmental control.
The move comes in response to growing fears among the web community that the US government has too much power over ICANN—the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a non-profit based in California which manages much of the web’s high level infrastructure, including the creation of top-level domains like .com, .co.uk and .рф.
The recent seizures of around 80 domains by the US authorities only goes on to show the amount of influence the government have over the internet. There is a fear that if the US Senate passes the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, such instances will increase – becoming a threat to an open internet.
In response to this, Sunde has proposed a DNS based on decentralised, peer-to-peer technology, called P2P-DNS. A wiki has been put together for the project, which says: “P2P-DNS is a community project that will free internet users from imperial control of DNS by ICANN. In order to prevent unjust prosecution or denial of service, P2P-DNS will operate as a distributed and less centralized service hosted by the users of DNS.”
The idea is to follow the original design of the internet—a network with no centralised points of failure. The problem, however, is the top-level domains. ICANN currently controls the popular ones. As a result, the project has proposed a new .p2p top-level domain—requests referring to this domain will be directed to a locally hosted DNS database, whereas other domains will be passed through.
Of course, there’s been attempts at setting up alternative DNS systems before, which have mostly faltered through lack of adoption. In the early days, a peer-to-peer system is likely to be slow, and insecure. But with both the UK and USA pursuing an increasingly oppressive legislative agenda with regards to freedom on the web, perhaps this is an idea whose time has finally come.
As long as there is a centralized root, there is always the possibility of interference from government and other agencies. To counter this threat what Peter Sunde is suggesting is a new Domain Name System based on peer to peer technology. Such a system will be completely decentralized and hence almost impossible for the government or any other agencies to control.
The P2P-DNS is the name of the project which aims to do this. According to the project’s wiki, this is how the project is described:
P2P-DNS is a community project that will free internet users from imperial control of DNS by ICANN. In order to prevent unjust prosecution or denial of service, P2P-DNS will operate as a distributed and less centralized service hosted by the users of DNS. Temporary substitutes, (as Alpha and Beta developments), are being made ready for deployment. A network with no centralized points of failure, (per the original design of the internet), remains our goal. P2P-DNS is developing rapidly.
This system will work only with a .p2p TLD, other TLDs will be passed through to be handled by the default DNS server. This is stated in the project’s goal as:
Create an application that runs as a service and hooks into the host’s DNS system to catch all requests to the .p2p TLD while passing all other requests cleanly through. Requests for the .p2p TLD will be redirected to a locally hosted DNS database.
While the idea of a completely decentralized internet free from the government’s interference is a very tempting one, it is not without its own sets of problems. One of them has to do with trust. With the current setup, we are putting our trust in the DNS servers like OpenDNS, Google DNS etc. to point us to the right direction when we want to access a website. With the scheme that P2P-DNS is proposing, we will have to rely on others in the network to direct us. It is one thing to trust OpenDNS, Google etc. but completely another thing to do the same with a random computer. Such a system is also harder to secure and tends to be slower.
This is not the first time that an alternative Domain Name System has been proposed. Starting with AlterNIC in 1997, alternative DNS has had a controversial history. Many have ceased to function now because of the lack of adoption from users. However, coming right after the controversial seizure of 80 domains by the US government, P2P-DNS might just get enough support to make it a success.
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