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Re: Los Angeles Times article on Helsingius and anon.penet.fi

John Gilmore wrote:

> PS: I would counsel against the kind of false anonymity provided by
> the Finnish server, though.  Providing information under the promise
> that it will "never be revealed or misused" is a lot more dangerous
> than never providing it at all.  E.g. "Anonymous cash" that is really
> based on dossiers or account-numbers isn't anonymous at all.  Even
> physical cash is getting easier to trace; the British government has
> been tracking money by serial numbers for years, with custom machines
> in the banks, to de-anonymize Irish freedom-fighters (oops, I mean
> terrorists).  Anonymity is another area, like privacy, where changes
> from technology can make big social differences.

There is a massive difference between anonymous speech and anonymous
transactions. Anonymous speech can create problems (defamation etc.)
but in the main these are not problems the courts are particularly
good at dealing with. In the UK the libel laws are not so much a redress
for legitimate grievance than a way for a senior Tory to obtain a nice
lump sum towards his pension if he should happen to be filmed handing
over 5000 quid in a breifcase to a prostitute he'd never met.

The "problems" encountered by the Church of Scientology demonstrate that
the court process itself can be imeasurably more harmfull than any
imagined grievance. Should society have laws to protect trades secrets?
Probably , but not to protect the likes of the CoS. If the Internet
makes such laws difficult to enforce then we should return to the
original concerns that prompted society to create the laws in the first
place and see if the Internet provides better was of achieving the same

Anonymous transactions are a rather different matter. It is more
difficult to argue for anonymity. The extreeme examples of Chaumian cash
create considerable difficulties such as making a perfect conduit for
ransom proceeds and the profits of drug trafficing. Simply ignoring
these problems will result in the proponents of anonymity simply being

The principle fear of the authorities appears to be terrorist rather
than normal criminal activities. Terrorism is no longer limited to far
off irredentist struggles that ex-patriates can harbour romantic
thoughts about. The reality the the IRA is an organisation that murders
children by placing a bomb in a rubbish bin outside a MacDonalds has
been brought home to the suporters of Noraid through the bombings of the
World Trade Center, Oaklahoma and Atlanta. If one lives in a country
where there is little terrorism it is easy to imagine that people driven
to extreeme actions are driven by a extreeme situation. If one is faced
with the reality of terrorism one soon reaches the conclusion that its
perpetrators are simply ordinary psychopaths.

Having stated that terrorism is an important concern for the state it is
necessary to ask whether it is necessary to restrict freedom to combat
terrorism. In answering one must bear in mind that a central part of
most terrorist strategies is to force the state to respond with
disproportionate measures (here recent events in Chetchnya indicate that
Trotsky was not widely read in the USSR). 

Absolutely anonymous cash may create problems, but what if it were
possible to generate small quantities of "marked bills" within an
otherwise anonymous system. If the circumstances under which the marked
bills could be distributed were limited to a small set of tightly
controlled circumstances the legitimate need of the government to oppose
terrorism and organised crime could be met without imposing a Singapore
style system with total monitoring.

In effect what is taking place is a negotiation between two groups, the
government and civil rights activists. If one side refuses to consider
the needs of the other they will be marginalised. Absolutism in politics
is usually a bad thing. Politics usually works through compromises. The
art being to ensure that one compromises the inessential terms in order
to defend the key items.

In the present Presidential race the one policy area in which Clinton is
potentially vulnerable is privacy. Its the one area which the
Republicans could raise and claim it as their own (whether justifiable
or not). The Clinton camp could not move from their current position
without dropping Freeh overboard, since Freeh has run the FBI without
any Ruby ridge or Waco style cockups on his watch I don't think that is
likely to happen. If privacy is raised as a policy concern in this
election it will reoccur in the next and both parties will have to
justify their policies in terms of personal privacy as well as
everything else.

Just because the election is practically settled does not mean that the
campaign will not affect what happens during the administration. Clinton
clearly wants Gore to be his successor and is going to want to make it
as easy as possible for him to win. Clinton is the kind of politician I
can trust - give him an issue and I trust him to look at the opinion
polls. If Dole makes any kind of headway in '96 with a privacy plank
then Gore will have to have one in 2000.