[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: What is the EFF doing exactly?

At 1:56 AM 9/4/96, jim bell wrote:
>At 03:17 PM 9/3/96 -0700, Jon Lebkowsky wrote:

>>Not necessarily. The character of the anonymous speech is decisive. If you
>>use anonymity to cloak harassment, for instance, the anonymity (which
>>removes accountability) is a problem.  The accountability issue is real and
>>should be addressed, not evaded.
>"Addressed", maybe, but that doesn't necessarily mean, "solved."  For many
>decades, people have been able to walk up to a pay telephone at 3:00 AM and
>make a harassing phone call to somebody, a "problem" which still exists and
>no solution is being implemented for.
>I think it's reasonable to come to the conclusion that there is no solution
>to the anonymity "problem" that isn't worse than the underlying anonymity.
>And, BTW, I don't consider a pro-anonymity position to be an extremist one.

I agree, of course. There is absolutely nothing about "speech" that is tied
to "accountability." And various Supreme Court decisions have emphasized
this. (Pay special attention to the quote from Greg Broiles I included in
my section from my Cyphernomicon I just posted to the list.)

Think about it. Anyone may say pretty much anything they wish (modulo the
usual exceptions of certain forms of obscenity, shouting "Fire!,"
etc....and even these are enforced ex post facto). Once a speech act occurs
and some criminal prosecution results, the cops can try to catch the
speaker. But if they can't, they can't. We don't require that speech only
be done in a way that illegal speakers may be held "accountable."

The fact that certain classes of speakers are indeed held accountable is
more a function of the particular details of the way they spoke and the
nature of society than it is that there is a rule that "all speech must
involve accountability." We hold the author of an article in "The
Washington Post" more liable for insulting speech than we do the guy in the
neighborhood gym, even if they both say the same words. The issue is
clearly not that "all speech must involve accountability," as many forms of
speech are not.

(I'd say the meta-issue is "You can drag someone into court if you can
catch them. But if you can't catch them, you can't. And we're not going to
limit speech just to make it easier to catch speakers you may wish to haul
into court.")

As Jim and so many others have noted, anonymous phone calls, anonymous
postal mail, whispering campaigns, speech in private homes, etc., are all
examples where accountability is extremely difficult or impossible to
enforce. We even have names for these things: anonymous threats, poison pen
letters, ransom demands, gossip, etc.

Saying that speech on the Net may need to be restricted so as to ensure
"accountability" is a serious step in the direction of requiring
credentialling of all speakers, key escrow, and limits on remailers. Given
that so many other types of speech are given anonymity protection, why?

The reason this is such a hot button for Cypherpunks is that "responsible
freedom" and "accountability" are often code words for controlling some
very basic freedoms. Placing limits on anonymous speech would involve some
very fundamental restrictions on freedoms of various sorts. Even if
"safeguards" are built-in, the effect would almost certainly be to
illegalize remailers (unless they had "escrow" features!). And a wide array
of other freedoms, too numerous for me to write about here.

--Tim May

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."