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Anonymity, accountability, and control



With respect to recent discussion about anonymous posts/mail, and the
wishes of some to avoid passing anonymous traffic .. I guess I've really
got to wonder just how difficult people think it is to get onto the net,
anyway.

I've got my net access becuase I pay UUNET roughly $50/month for
it - and I get my own domain name, with as many hosts (and as many users
on those hosts) as I care to set up. I set up 'fake' accounts on a
regular basis - not becuase I'm trying to trick anyone, per se, but
becuase it's the easiest way I know of to tweak the flow & storage of
mail on disparate subjects & topics. I can post a message and say
"Please E-mail to me, and I'll summarize with a post", and do so easily
- I just set up a special account that I'd like replies to go to, and
then I post from that account.  (Usually, just to be polite, I'll use
the same 'real name', but multiple account names - '[email protected]'
vs '[email protected]' vs '[email protected]', and so forth.)
Then, a few days/weeks later, it's no big deal to concatenate the
replies in those different mailboxes into different summary messages for
posting. This seems like the sort of thing everyone ought to be able to
do - such that you could request (or command) that replies to a message
be directed into a particular E-mail folder owned by your account.

What all of this brings home to me is how easily I could just create an
entirely fictitious 'person', and use it for posting & mailing - it'd be
totally anonymous, provide me with easy way to receive replies & carry
on conversations .. *and* nobody would even know they were talking to
a real person via a fake name. I don't do this because it seems impolite
to converse with people under false pretenses; if I wanted or needed to
post/mail anonymously, I'd probably use a redirector (if I could find
one) because it seems more polite to be clear about my desire for
discretion & privacy.

Apparently, however, some of the powers that be would rather see folks
like me using fake but real-sounding names when we want privacy, instead
of being clear about what's going on. I think that's a shame, because it
seems like lying.

The Internet has already had to deal with the fact that it's not
possible to trust a user simply because they're root on their local
machine - it may well be that 'root' (as in my case) is just some guy
with a '386 who likes to play on the net. There is, I think, still some
expectation that user names are what they appear - if you see a post
from "[email protected] (Chris Jones)" there's some expectation that
there really is a human being out there named "Chris Jones", who's
probably got a job and a desk and a boss, or at least some form of
accountability.

It's this slippery notion of 'accountability' that is perhaps at the
root of this 'anonymity' problem - the idea that there's gonna be some
hell to pay if somebody writes to '[email protected]', and
complains about Chris Jones. The fact is, you can mail to
'[email protected]' and whine all you like, it's just another
alias for the same damn person (me). I think there are going to be
more & more people like me in the future - I *am* my boss,
the postmaster, and the sysadmin - and if people don't like what I do or
say on the net, that's just too damn bad.

This illusion of accountability and control can't last much longer ..
can it? As I see it, these "net gods" who don't like anonymity have
two choices - anonymity they can detect, or anonymity they can't.
I'd much prefer to be polite and straightforward about things, and post
clearly marked anonymous posts/mail when that's what I want to do -
but if that traffic is going to be suppressed, I'll resort to more
clandestine anonymous transmissions. The days when it was possible
to make any assumptions at all about human to "real name" to net
address correspondences and mappings have passed, if they ever
existed at all. I think about my E-mail address(es) as ways to
direct the flow of mail such that it's convenient for me; I know
other people do this too.  My E-mail address isn't a license plate,
it's a file folder.

--
Mail to [email protected], subject="Greg Broiles" for PGP public key.
Greg Broiles                            [email protected]
Golden Bear Consulting                  +1 503 465 0325
Box 12005 Eugene OR 97440               BBS: +1 503 687 7764