thoughts and observations of a privacy, security and internet researcher, activist, and policy advisor

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Pressure Against Online Anonymity - or: Towards Online Identification

Online free speech is increasingly under attack. Not just by classical censorship, but by laws and regulations that would prohibit anonymity and establish mandatory identification systems.

The People’s Republic of China is working on a “real name verification system” for bloggers, but also for online gamers. South Korea is developing a similar “internet real-name system” for bloggers that they would have to use for posting blog entries and comments.

In the US, conservative senators McCain and Schumer introduced the "Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators Act of 2007" (also called "KIDS Act", Bill No. S.431) in January 2007, which would force all convicted sexual offenders to register all their online identities with the authorities. They are dead serious about this: If people fail to register, they will face up to ten years of imprisonment. This is not for raping anyone; this is just for not telling the government all their online user names and pseudonyms. The bill has even attracted democratic co-sponsors, including Barrack Obama, John Kerry, Patrick Leahy and Dianne Feinstein.

Now, Kentucky is making the news with a proposal similar to the Chinese and Korean ones:
Kentucky Representative Tim Couch filed a bill this week to make anonymous posting online illegal. The bill would require anyone who contributes to a website to register their real name, address and e-mail address with that site. Their full name would be used anytime a comment is posted.
Digg alerts its readers that the story was "reported by diggers as possibly inaccurate". Well, it is accurate. Here is the relevant part of the bill:
SECTION 2. A NEW SECTION OF KRS CHAPTER 369 IS CREATED TO READ AS FOLLOWS:
(1) An interactive service provider shall establish, maintain, and enforce a policy to require information content providers to register a legal name, address, and valid electronic mail address as a precondition of using the interactive service.
(2) An interactive service provider shall establish, maintain, and enforce a policy to require information content providers to be conspicuously identified with all information provided by, at a minimum, their registered legal name.
(3) An interactive service provider shall establish reasonable procedures to enable any person to request and obtain disclosure of the legal name, address, and valid electronic mail address of an information content provider who posts false or defamatory information about the person.

SECTION 3. A NEW SECTION OF KRS CHAPTER 369 IS CREATED TO READ AS FOLLOWS:
An interactive service provider that violates any of the provisions of Section 2 of this Act shall be fined five hundred dollars ($500) for the first offense and one thousand dollars ($1,000) for each subsequent offense.
What is the reasoning behind it? National security? Preventing online stalking and insults? No - bullying! Local tv station WTVQ reports:
Representative Couch says he filed the bill in hopes of cutting down on online bullying. He says that has especially been a problem in his Eastern Kentucky district.
Because Tim Couch gets all the fire now, it is fair to mention that his republican party colleague Jimmy Higdon is co-sponsoring the bill.

Ryan Radia has a good post about the background for these developments at the Technology Liberation Front:
The Kentucky bill comes on the heels of controversy over the growing popularity of JuicyCampus.com, a "Web 2.0 website focusing on gossip" where college students post lurid—and often fabricated—tales of fellow students’ sexual encounters. The website bills itself as a home for "anonymous free speech on college campuses," and uses anonymous IP cloaking techniques to shield users’ identities. Backlash against the site has emerged, with Pepperdine’s student government recently voting to ban the site on campus. (...)

Despite the appeal of combating defamation by banning online anonymity, lawmakers should be wary about restricting anonymous speech in the name of fighting libel. The same laws designed to deter defamation can also be used to target political dissent or silence whistleblowers for whom the option of remaining anonymous is critical.
But there is hope, at least for the moment. WTVQ from Kentucky again:
Couch says enforcing this bill if it became law would be a challenge.
At the moment, he is absolutely right.

But what happens if, in ten years from now, we all have government-issued IDs that function as smart cards and together with the OpenCardSpace technology (or whatever it is called then) can be used to authenticate us before we can post anything online? The identity management systems that are being developed and rolled out right now are laying the foundations that may be used to end online anonymity. I certainly hope that U-Prove or similar technology is built into every identity system and operating system by then. But what if legislation forces the technologists to disable the anonymity for certain uses? That's why the struggle for free speech and anonymity also has to be a political and legal one, not just a technological one.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Elizabeth said...

Hey Ralf! I am majorly disturbed by this recent attack on online anonymity for several reasons. I am a creator of GossipReport.com. Oddly - we launched not far from Juicy - two months earlier than them.

That's neither here nor there. What I can say is that online anonymity is the savior for anyone who gets bullied off-line. With anonymous online posts, people don't have to fear the repercussion. For example - on GossipReport there is a section for political gossip. If someone like an intern or a page is being harassed by someone in power like a politician - they are obviously not going to speak up because they'll be afraid. With online anonymity they don't have to be afraid. I'd say that's a pretty good thing!

Anonymous online personas are so important in allowing people to have a voice, any legislation to the contrary would do far more harm than good.

I love that these legislators are trying to outlaw anonymity online. Meanwhile - they're using fake names to pick up hookers or buy drugs (obviously not all of them but you get what I mean).

That's my thought.

-Elizabeth

11/3/08 21:20

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11/3/08 21:50

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mean this case:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Requests_for_checkuser/Case/Griot

17/3/08 21:38

 
Anonymous From the SF Weekly web site said...

I edited this story and I can assure you that Mary did not get fired for this story or any other. Mary decided to leave the paper to take a job with a local documentary filmmaker. She gave her notice before the Wikipedia story was published. She disclosed to me early in the reporting process her sister’s fights with Griot and her sister’s role is mentioned high up in our story. Bottom line: We stand by the story.

Comment by Will Harper, Managing Editor, SF Weekly — February 26, 2008 @ 01:55PM


An Open Letter to the Wikimedia Foundation

To Whom It May Concern:

I do not participate on Wikipedia, nor do I use it as a source. I am none of the persons I am being accused of and do not suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as MPD. My attorney, Richard Rosenthal, has been supplied with these facts along with a request that all false claims, slanderous remarks and defaming content concerning me be removed promptly from the site. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Jeanne Marie Spicuzza

Comment by Jeanne Marie Spicuzza — February 13, 2008 @ 04:04PM

23/3/08 00:21

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

24/3/08 03:59

 
Anonymous fraud alert said...

Please check the IP address related to the previous defamatory comment by the "annonymous" commenter and report it to SF Weekly or its parent company as soon as possible

25/3/08 00:53

 
Anonymous From the SF Weekly site said...

I edited this story and I can assure you that Mary did not get fired for this story or any other. Mary decided to leave the paper to take a job with a local documentary filmmaker. She gave her notice before the Wikipedia story was published. She disclosed to me early in the reporting process her sister’s fights with Griot and her sister’s role is mentioned high up in our story. Bottom line: We stand by the story.

Comment by Will Harper, Managing Editor, SF Weekly — February 26, 2008 @ 01:55PM

25/3/08 00:54

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

User:Griot
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This user has been blocked indefinitely because CheckUser confirms that this user has used one or more accounts abusively.
The abuse of multiple accounts is prohibited; using new accounts to evade blocks or bans results in the block or ban being extended.
See block log • confirmed accounts • suspected socks • Checkuser request
Categories: Wikipedia sockpuppeteers

10/4/08 05:11

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

24/6/08 21:33

 
Blogger Ralf Bendrath said...

I have deleted some anonymous comments that made flase claims about Mary Spicuzza and her sister. I will not allow any more comments like these.

For what it's worth: I have no idea of the IP addresses people post comments from. If you want to find them out: Get a court order and try to get them from Google / Blogger.com directly.

9/12/08 13:53

 
Blogger yuvutu said...

There is no need to worry, the freedom fighters will always win in the long run, and this applies to defenders of free speech to.





(Anonymous Proxy)

6/10/09 15:58

 

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