17/02/2012 08:55 GMT | Updated 17/02/2012 08:59 GMT

ACTA Could Turn Web Users To The Dark Web

We use social media, shopping sites and news sites everyday, and maybe even make sur to turn on safe search when we're on Google.

But lurking beneath the pleasant parts of the internet that we're already using, is another layer where guns, drugs, and worse are available for sale. It's called the dark web.

The dark web is described by Witness This as The Dark Web, also known as "web pages and data that are beyond the reach of search engines." Freenet describes the darknet as a particular mode, when users only connect to people they know without detection.

The majority of sites within the web's nether regions have been deliberately constructed to avoid detection by search engines and to remain anonymous.

The BBC 5 Live explored the dark web earlier this year and bought the hallucinogen DMT. They also interviewed dark web users who admitted that the dark web was the preferred method of buying drugs.

The Huffington Post looked through the list of sites available, which showed a large number of porn sites, some warning that the images may be of those underage, rape discussion boards, The Terrorist Handbook and a how-to guide for arson attacks. These sites were not accessed by The Huffington Post.

With online freedom currently under threat from the international Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), SOPA and PIPA, many looking to communicate freely on the web could be forced into communicating via this nether world.

Jeff Lynn, the Chairman of The Coalition for A Digital Economy (COADEC) told The Huffington Post that ACTA could cause people to resort to the darknet to communicate and trade without risk of prosecution.

"Citizens, businesses and governments alike have all felt the benefits of being able to communicate more efficiently and transparently on the web. The strength of the internet has been in its openness and freedom.

"ACTA brings a serious risk of not only forcing EU citizens who want to communicate into this 'dark web', but also criminalising the innovative entrepreneurs and startups building platforms by making them liable for the content posted by members of the public."

Accessing the dark net is as easy as downloading some software. Install freenet software and you can easily browse and publish "freesites" without censorship.

With freenet installed, a user can add "friends" who also have freenet, and then communicate directly between each other's computers without detection.

Because of this, this undetectable realm is also in common use among people campaigning against dictatorships, who need to go undetected.

Campaigners for civil liberties also use the dark web for sharing of legitimate and legal documents. Some of the most popular sites on freenet are the Freenet Message Systems, Freemail, while perfectly palatable documents like The Finnish Constitution, Anne Frank's diary and a personal diary of the war in Afghanistan were also seen by The Huffington Post.

Those who oppose ACTA say that in its current form, it would stop poorer nations gaining access to generic pharmaceuticals as producers are crushed by big pharma. They also say that smaller traders of farming seeds could be stopped from doing so by large agricultural companies.

If ACTA succeeds, the currently legal sale of innocuous items like seeds and cheap drugs could soon be found alongside some of the most objectionable material found anywhere online.