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Anonymity and cost


Wei Dai writes:

> Anonymous e-mail that goes through a chain of N remailers will cost at
> least N times as much bandwidth and have N times as much latency as normal
> e-mail.  But e-mail is hardly the state-of-the-art of network
> communication, while anonymous e-mail IS the state of the art for
> anonymous communication.  How long will it take for the technology of
> anonymous video conferencing to develope, for example?  By then, of
> course, those who are not concerned with anonymity will probably have
> things such as full sensory virtual interaction. 

At a very basic level, anonymous (not pseudonymous, like the remailers
are) messages are *cheaper*, because they carry less information; they
do not need to send the bits which identify the sender. 

This conversation seems to elide distinctions between low-level
anonymity (where source information is simply not transmitted) and
high-level anonymity, where source information is transmitted but is
not used for social or political reasons.

Anonymous remailers are considered "anonymous" because (some of us)
agree that we won't treat the "From:" line as indicating the real
author of the text below. We agree this because we know how
remailers work; we know that (probably) the person who wrote the
message isn't the same person as the owner of the "From:" address.

When we say a message is "anonymous" we mean that its real author
should not/cannot be connected with the text of the message. We could
just as easily agree on an "Identify-Author:" header field by which
authors could indicate whether or not they wished to be speaking
"on the record" when they wrote the message. 

A multi-hop message where the "From:" line changes with each hop
costs almost precisely what a multi-hop message would cost without
the "From:" line changes. Folks feeling detail-oriented can calculate
the cost of the CPU time to strip header information vs. the cost of
sending that header information to the next hop. I don't care about
the answer, so I'm not going to.

Anonymous video conferencing is available now; go to Kinko's, pay
cash for the use of their video conference room. Or, ask/convince
the recipient to consider the conversation "off the record". 

Current remailer operators experience a cost in that they 
receive some amount of hassle and exposure to liability by
running remailers; but this is merely a "cost" shifted from one
person (the author) to another, the surrogate author. This may
look like a cost of anonymity but it's more accurately 
described as the cost of being provocative or rude or illegal.

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