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Anonymity (re: the Esther Dyson issue)



The latest debate about "anonymity" and its hazards is bringing up charges
that we Cypherpunks are not taking Esther Dysomn's concerns seriously
enough.

I strongly disagree. The various downsides of anonymity,
pseudonymity/pseudoanonymity, lack of accountability, etc., have been
hashed out in literally *thousands* of posts over the past four years! Many
of us have written long articles dealing with these issues, and referring
in great detail to mechanisms for dealing with "obnoxious speech,"
"defamatory speech," "anonymous mailbombs," "anonymous threats," etc.

Rather than dredge up my own articles, or those of the many others who have
addressed most or all of the concerns most often raised, I'll post here one
of the subsections from my Cyphernomicon. This is just one of the
subsections in the entire _chapter_ devoted to issues of anonymity, mixes,
and remailers.

(For those not familiar with the style of my Cyphernomicon, I used a
powerful outline processor (MORE) to build a skeleton, attach threads and
ideas, move things around, clone headings in more than one place, etc. For
a large writing project of this sort, an outline processor is almost a
necessity. At least for me. The points are often short and are sometimes
incomplete; fleshing the whole thing out into well-written expository prose
would've taken an additional several months of full-time effort. This form
gets the points across.)

(A few subsubsections are deleted, to save space.)


Cyphernomicon 8.3

Anonymity, Digital Mixes, and Remailers:
Anonymity and Digital Pseudonyms

    8.3.1. Why is anonymity so important?
           - It allows escape from past, an often-essential element of
              straighening out (an important function of the Western
              frontier, the French Foreign Legion, etc., and something we
              are losing as the dossiers travel with us wherever we go)
           - It allows new and diverse types of opinions, as noted below
           - More basically, anonymity is important because identity is
              not as important as has been made out in our dossier
              society. To wit, if Alice wishes to remain anonymous or
              pseudonymous to Bob, Bob cannot "demand" that she provide
              here "real" name. It's a matter of negotiation between
              them. (Identity is not free...it is a credential like any
              other and cannot be demanded, only negotiated.)
           - Voting, reading habits, personal behavior...all are
              examples where privacy (= anonymity, effectively) are
              critical. The next section gives a long list of reasons for
              anonymity.
    8.3.2. What's the difference between anonymity and pseudonymity?
           + Not much, at one level...we often use the term "digital
              pseudonym" in a strong sense, in which the actual identity
              cannot be deduced easily
             - this is "anonymity" in a certain sense
           - But at another level, a pseudonym carries reputations,
              credentials, etc., and is _not_ "anonymous"
           - people use pseudonyms sometimes for whimsical reasons
              (e.g., "From [email protected]   Sep 6, 94
              06:10:30"), sometimes to keep different mailing lists
              separate (different personnas for different groups), etc.
    8.3.3. Downsides of anonymity
           - libel and other similar dangers to reputations
           + hit-and-runs actions (mostly on the Net)
             + on the other hand, such rantings can be ignored (KILL
                file)
               - positive reputations
           - accountability based on physical threats and tracking is
              lost
           + Practical issue. On the Cypherpunks list, I often take
              "anonymous" messages less seriously.
             - They're often more bizarre and inflammatory than ordinary
                posts, perhaps for good reason, and they're certainly
                harder to take seriously and respond to. This is to be
                expected. (I should note that some pseudonyms, such as
                Black Unicorn and Pr0duct Cypher, have established
                reputable digital personnas and are well worth replying
                to.)
           - repudiation of debts and obligations
           + infantile flames and run-amok postings
             - racism, sexism, etc.
             - like "Rumormonger" at Apple?
           - but these are reasons for pseudonym to be used, where the
              reputation of a pseudonym is important
           + Crimes...murders, bribery, etc.
             - These are dealt with in more detail in the section on
                crypto anarchy, as this is a major concern (anonymous
                markets for such services)
    8.3.4. "How will privacy and anonymity be attacked?"
           - the downsides just listed are often cited as a reason we
              can't have "anonymity"
           - like so many other "computer hacker" items, as a tool for
              the "Four Horsemen": drug-dealers, money-launderers,
              terrorists, and pedophiles.
           - as a haven for illegal practices, e.g., espionage, weapons
              trading, illegal markets, etc.
           + tax evasion ("We can't tax it if we can't see it.")
             - same system that makes the IRS a "silent partner" in
                business transactions and that gives the IRS access to--
                and requires--business records
           + "discrimination"
             - that it enables discrimination (this _used_ to be OK)
             - exclusionary communities, old boy networks
    8.3.5. "How will random accusations and wild rumors be controlled in
            anonymous forums?"
           - First off, random accusations and hearsay statements are
              the norm in modern life; gossip, tabloids, rumors, etc. We
              don't worry obsessively about what to do to stop all such
              hearsay and even false comments. (A disturbing trend has
              been the tendency to sue, or threaten suits. And
              increasingly the attitude is that one can express
              _opinions_, but not make statements "unless they can be
              proved." That's not what free speech is all about!)
           - Second, reputations matter. We base our trust in statements
              on a variety of things, including: past history, what
              others say about veracity, external facts in our
              possession, and motives.
    8.3.6. "What are the legal views on anonymity?"
           + Reports that Supreme Court struck down a Southern law
              requiring pamphlet distributors to identify themselves. 9I
              don't have a cite on this.)
             - However, Greg Broiles provided this quote, from _Talley
                v. State of California_, 362 U.S. 60, 64-65, 80 S.Ct.
                536, 538-539 (1960) : "Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets,
                brochures and even books have played an important role in
                the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from
                time to time throughout history have been able to
                criticize oppressive practices and laws either
                anonymously or not at all."

                Greg adds: "It later says "Even the Federalist Papers,
                written in favor of the adoption of our Constitution,
                were published under fictitious names. It is plain that
                anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most
                constructive purposes." [Greg Broiles, 1994-04-12]

           + And certainly many writers, journalists, and others use
              pseudonyms, and have faced no legal action.
             - Provided they don't use it to evade taxes, evade legal
                judgments, commit fraud, etc.
           - I have heard (no cites) that "going masked for the purpose
              of going masked" is illegal in many jurisdictions. Hard to
              believe, as many other disguises are just as effective and
              are presumably not outlawed (wigs, mustaches, makeup,
              etc.). I assume the law has to do with people wearning ski
              masks and such in "inappropriate" places. Bad law, if real.
    8.3.7. Some Other Uses for Anonymous Systems:
           + Groupware and Anonymous Brainstorming and Voting
             - systems based on Lotus Notes and designed to encourage
                wild ideas, comments from the shy or overly polite, etc.
             - these systems could initially start in meeting and then
                be extended to remote sites, and eventually to nationwide
                and international forums
             - the NSA may have a heart attack over these trends...
           + "Democracy Wall" for encrypted messages
             - possibly using time-delayed keys (where even the public
                key, for reading the plaintext, is not distributed for
                some time)
             - under the cover of an electronic newspaper, with all of
                the constitutional protections that entails: letters to
                the editor can be anonymous, ads need not be screened for
                validity, advertising claims are not the responsibility
                of the paper, etc.
           + Anonymous reviews and hypertext (for new types of journals)
             + the advantages
               - honesty
               -  increased "temperature" of discourse
             + disadvantages
               - increased flames
               - intentional misinformation
           + Store-and-forward nodes
             - used to facillitate the anonymous voting and anonymous
                inquiry (or reading) systems
             - Chaum's "mix"
             + telephone forwarding systems, using digital money to pay
                for the service
               - and TRMs?
 ...

We got computers, we're tapping phone lines, I know that that ain't allowed.
---------:---------:---------:---------:---------:---------:---------:----
Timothy C. May              | Crypto Anarchy: encryption, digital money,
[email protected]  408-728-0152 | anonymous networks, digital pseudonyms, zero
W.A.S.T.E.: Corralitos, CA  | knowledge, reputations, information markets,
Licensed Ontologist         | black markets, collapse of governments.
"National borders aren't even speed bumps on the information superhighway."