Donna Wentworth @ Copyfight
Your ISP Knows You're a Dog

Fred von Lohmann, in a Law.com column on the importance of preserving anonymous speech on the Internet: "[R]emember, on the Internet, your ISP knows you're a dog, and your adversary is only a subpoena away from compromising your constitutionally protected right to bark anonymously."

Anonymity is a very important issue in the context of terrorism and the Internet and will be on the agenda for the Internet track of the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security that I am co-organizing. This is also an important issue in the context of ICANN's position on the importance of privacy and the whois database (the database of domain name owners and contact points). I still believe that there are definitely costs to anonymity, but stifling anonymous speech is a huge cost to democracy.

It's not only the EFF and people like myself who believe in anonymous free speech. The American Association for the Advancement of Science came out on the side of anonymity and said that, "this is not a fruitful area of regulation for now or in the future." Of course this was back in 1999. (Wired article on this report) As Fred says in his article, the founding fathers of the US published the Federalist Papers anonymously and were acutely aware of the necessity of protecting anonymity and tried to build that into the constitution. Today we are all chipping away at this right with the fear of copyright infringement, terrorism, child pornography and a variety of boogymen leading the charge.

8 Comments

Interesting that in your last sentence you put "fear of copyright infringement" at the top of the list.
I for one, lie in bed at night terrified that somewhere, some 13-year-old girl might have a copy of a song she didn't pay for on her mother's computer. Take my civil liberties, please!

boo: I guess copyright is on my mind. It is true though that one of the biggest lobbies trying to stamp out anonymity is the Hollywood cartel who have even suggested connections between music pirates and terrorist saying that there may be money flows.

If someone steals your work, or harasses you over the internet do you really think they should be protected by anonymity?

Free speech is fine as an ideal, but it does not apply to all situations. Like all ideals it needs practical real world limits that should be challenged (and enforced) as times and technologies change.

/Posted anonymously

My point is that anonymous free speech is worth the cost of having anonymous criminals hassle you. By trying to stomp out these sorts of crimes by making anonymous free speech impossible, you will hurt democracy more than the benefit of making these crime difficult. The criminals will always find a way around it anyway. Stamping out anonymity is not the only or the best way to deal with anonymous harassment.

Identity theft cases show that it is easy for people to steal your identity and criminals will just use stolen or forged identities to do what they are currently doing anonymously.

I wonder if you would think the same if you were ever been hassled by an anonymous criminal.

Actually, what (and when) is meant by "anonymity"? Does it mean that a person can post anonymously, but if they cause trouble or try to steal things they can be tracked down? I think most people would agree that is reasonable.

Or does 'anonymity" mean that there should be no way to track down trouble makers or criminals? I think most people need some protection and despite Jefferson's quote are prepared to sacrifice a little freedom for some safety.

In many countries, if you speak up, you will be tracked down by people who have great deal of influence and power. You will then either be killed or jailed. Making it possible to track down every petty criminal on the Internet easily just by scaring an ISP will make it easy for any tyrant to stamp out free speech about their country on the Internet.

Until recently we had a nice balance in law: the presumption of innocence, but procedures to take steps in criminal cases.

Copyright infringement is a different class of problem. It is clear, given current levels of illegal filesharing, that the laws themselves are questionable.

You have a choice of saying the laws are just fine and a large segment of the population are natural-born felons, and use that as an excuse to eliminate privacy rights.
Or, you can recognize that most people are not felons, and fix the copyright laws, and keep your privacy.

"My point is that anonymous free speech is worth the cost of having anonymous criminals hassle you."

the point is well taken, and i am a strong defender of free speech. criminal activity has never been eliminated by any law. anonymity goes together with privacy in my book, but i look at it from the stand point of the basic human right to free speech.

copyright and anonymity are two separate issues. copyright is a man made civil law created over a century ago to deal with technologies that even jules verne had not dreamed of. copyright, along with other intellectual property rights are the laws that need to be reworked to serve this society and cope with the existent and emerging technology.

why fuck up basic human rights because some quasi-monopolies are bent on command and control?

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