April 16, 2010

Saving Internet Anonymity -- The Struggle is Joined

Greetings. What's the fundamental problem with "cyberspace" -- that is, the Internet?

There are various issues to choose from, but if you didn't put "anonymity" near the top of your list, you're not alone.

Yet the drumbeat from the self-appointed guardians of our Internet safety -- calling for "the end" of Internet anonymity -- is growing ever stronger, and with it are increasingly shrill calls for some form of verifiable ID that could (proponents hope) track your every move on the Internet and on every connected site.

This of course is the wet dream both of law enforcement with usually laudable goals, and of totalitarian governments (or would-be, could-be, once-were, or might-become totalitarian governments) who are increasingly cowed by the raw power of communications -- not subject to easy centralized control or muzzling -- that the Internet provides ordinary people.

So the bogeymen of Internet nightmares, like the "bad trips" of a thousand geeks on acid, are being trotted out into the public discourse with increasing frequency and ever-escalating levels of doomsday rhetoric.

A couple of months ago, in Microsoft's Police State Vision? Exec Calls for Internet "Driver's Licenses" and Google and the Battle for the Soul of the Internet I touched on some of these issues, and I noted not only why anonymity was important -- even though it can be abused -- but how attempts to stamp out anonymity will tend to negatively impact honest citizens much more than criminals or terrorists -- and creates enormous risks of governmental abuses down the line.

Now comes word that at a "cybersecurity conference" sponsored by Russia and held in Germany, some notable Russian and U.S. attendees were in agreement that the basic evil of the Internet is the existence of anonymous usage.

The clarity with which some attendees have divined anonymity as -- they hope we believe -- our vicious and powerful adversary was notable in the absolute conviction of their statements.

"Anonymity is an invitation to criminals," said Col. Gen. Boris N. Miroshnikov of the Russian Interior Ministry -- an organization that certainly has well understood both the "big picture" and the minutia of running a police state at various times in its history.

Chiming in agreement: "Anonymity is the fundamental problem we face in cyberspace" -- was Stewart A. Baker, fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and former chief counsel for masters of SIGINT -- communications interception and intelligence behemoth NSA -- the National Security Agency.

It doesn't take a crystal ball to foresee the direction in which these parties would very much like to take their arguments. The basic strategy of such "political" battles hasn't changed very much in more than two thousand years.

Just as some anti-Net Neutrality groups have chosen a designated enemy -- Google -- as their scapegoat for Big Lie arguments, we're now seeing the specter of the Internet Criminal -- the Internet Terrorist, being groomed to serve in the call for universal Internet user identification and control. Straw man fallacies, exaggerations, misrepresentations, and a heady dose of "Do it for the children!" will be invoked like demons called forth from the pages of the "Necronomicon."

Needless to say, this will not be a war of a mere few skirmishes or a single major battle. This will likely be an extended struggle -- in legislatures, courtrooms, and the courts of public opinion around the world -- for control over a critical aspect of the very soul of the Internet -- plus the hearts and minds of its users.

It's up to us. The struggle is joined.


Posted by Lauren at April 16, 2010 09:23 PM | Permalink
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