Minh’s Notes

Human-readable chicken scratch

Minh Nguyễn
May 25th, 2005


Ignorance is Strength

I didn’t think I’d have much more to say about politics for awhile, after writing my piece on REAL ID. But now this: the FBI and DHS have started cracking down on hubs belonging to the BitTorrent file-sharing service. One of the first to be targeted is EliteTorrents.org, which has been reduced to a flashy red warning composed in Microsoft Word. (How do I know? Check the page’s source code.)

BitTorrent isn’t an inherently bad service (more details); it isn’t specifically for illegally sharing music and movies, like Napster was. In fact, BitTorrent is primarily intended for the distribution of open-source software – and open-source is by definition free to use, distribute, and modify. Projects like Mozilla depend on BitTorrent to reduce bandwidth loads.

It very well may be that this particular hub is intended more for music- and video-swapping, but it worries me a bit that Homeland Security is devoting resources towards a more wide-reaching effort to eradicate BitTorrent hubs. And what next? I hear that illegal file-swappers are looking to Usenet these days. You just might find it on Google Groups (Do No Evil) someday.

It’s interesting that the Department of Homeland Security is a key player in the case. You’d think that the Department of Justice would handle the case, since it usually does. But this time it’s “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” perhaps because it was probably used worldwide, so copyrighted works could’ve been distributed worldwide by this American-based hub.

It’s an odd consequence of so many departments and agencies being brought under the DHS’s umbrella due to the Homeland Security Act in 2002.

No, this case isn’t quite as scandalous as the REAL ID legislation, but it does make you stop and wonder how sensibly our government is organized these days.

Thanks again to Robert Accettura for the scoop.


  1. My experience with the bittorrent protocol goes back about two years ago when the average internet user had no idea what it was. I kept saying to my friends, "this is the next big thing, trust me." They didn't really pay attention and went back to their Kazaa or Kazaa lite or whatever. So I watched as tracker sites grew from a simple table with torrent links, amount of seeders, amount of downloaders, and a datestamp to the graphical/advertisement-filled BT sites of today.

    Back in the day, there were two strong forces in the BT community and various other start-ups of people who wanted to be big. This was all before any alternative clients were coded or any other tools besides those of Bram were out there. One of those forces was http://www.torrentse.cx/ (don't bother going there) which served everything under one roof. I also believe they were the first to build a comment system for each torrent. I was one of the many, many people who flocked to that site. It wasn't uncommon to see 100 or more comments per torrent. The site was, in my mind, the best site you could go to for anything and they typically never had any server or site-related problems. All good things come to an end though and so torrentse.cx was shut down after half a year or so of operation.

    The second big site was http://www.suprnova.org/ which was a rising force at the time but, thanks to its many problems -- mostly server-related -- it grew to be annoying. But, as most know, it later grew to become one of the largest forces in the Bittorrent community in 2004-early 2005. Hundreds of thousands of unique visitors frequented the site in one day and mirrors were set up to handle the capacity. Suprnova had a great system for submitting torrents and were at their peak when they were shut down and a sizable portion of the bittorrent community destroyed.

    Just a small correction to your first paragraph, EliteTorrents is by no means the first hub to be shut down. It comes in a string of shut downs that have massively reduced the size of the *illegal* torrent community for the past year or so. It almost seems right to me, had they let suprnova go loose the problem would have become so much worse. It would have spreaded like firefox * 10 (ie, Kazaa or something). So basically, bittorrent for illegal downloading was unsuccessful in its time, as we sit and watch it become even more extinct by the almost weekly news articles proclaiming which trackers were shut down/sued. Legal/Open source downloading through bittorrent has never been more prevalent, however

    I used to be the type of guy who, if had the choice of a .torrent file or direct ftp link, would take the ftp. Now, by rule, I bypass the ftp all the time mostly considering it ancient and extinct. Bittorrent is just one of those things that makes sense. I mean, collectivism is a grand thing that most Americans don't really take advantage of, which is depressing ... as an American oddly enough. I can download all my linux iso's through torrent, open-source applications for windows and linux alike, and even the fortnightly release of LUGRadio. It's a very powerful network transfer utility.

    Lastly, usenet, which is one of those premiere tools that not too many know about. It really separates the experienced pirates/leechers from the average p2p newbie. Illegal content has, in my estimation, been transferred through usenet since it's advent in the early 80s. It was the encoding format called yEnc (2001) which really increased the amount of binary content on news groups for the 21st century. In that respect, usenet has been more alive than ever in the past years as 2TB of traffic per day is the new standard.

    Hope you found something interesting in there. I don't condone piracy, I would always suggest people buy their own movies, games, music, applications and the like. Piracy can lead to paranoia and extreme consequences that are most formidable.

  2. Mr. McFakename

    The wole torrent crackdown was going to happen eventually, any time nay software can be utilized for piracy it will be and will enjoy a life span of anywhere from a few years to a few months before the riaa or mpaa gets freaked out and starts calling in the big guns shut down anything they can. The easiest thing to target? The sites distrubiting the P2P software and in the case of Bittorrent, the tracker files. The people that suffer though are the ones that use bitorrent for non mainstream downloads or prefectly legal reasons. I mean with bittorrent I accumilated quite a collection of late 80's and early 90's cartoons not available on DVD and it's not like I was selling them on the street or taking profits from the animation companes, several of which don't even exist anymore. I was just getting suff for my personal use that you can't find for sale anymore. (it's hash dling system also kicks ass for 56k users dling anything over 20mb) A new P2P client will come to prominence after this, anohter one always does (I'm putting my money on eMule at the moment) but unlike bittorrent actually obtaining eclectic files will become much harder.

    In the end pirates are going to win, it's just human nature to take the easiest route to getting what we want. The result may be the destruction of the music/film/game industries but people pirating will have no-one to blame but themsleves when that happens. There's much better ways to spend tax money than fighting the invitable.

  3. eMule? That seems so old-school. First of all, everyone (the media, the government, and the record industries) already know about it. And you can’t make the same case for legitimacy with that network. You could with BitTorrent, thanks to its committed community of open-source users.

    We all know that this’ll turn into a nuclear arms race of sorts.

  4. Mr. McFakename

    The thing about eMule is that recently I've seen a lot of "hacks" if you can call them that to disable overnet tracking of what you download. I think the first people to release these were the folks over at the Digital Archives Project. From what I've seen these are pretty damn effective just so long as you trus whoever your getting your files from since you have disable firewalls to use them. Plus I'm not trying to make a case of legitimacy on it, becasue uyou really can't. I'm just saying that most people already know about it and becasue of that and the anti-security measures out there for it it may be the "new" source for fileshare networks. Either that or we go back to the really old school way, burning the libary's CDs and DVDs.