[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
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
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,
(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.)
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
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
- positive reputations
- accountability based on physical threats and tracking is
+ 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- increased "temperature" of discourse
- 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."