From Anonymity to Identification

The inaugural issue of the Journal of Self-Regulation and Regulation is out, and it includes an article of mine, From Anonymity to Identification. The article is adapted from a talk I gave in Heidelberg last December. I’m in good company: other authors in this issue are Markus Beckedahl, Jeanette Hofmann, Marianne Kneuer, Milton L. Mueller, Ekkehart Reimer, William Binney, Kai Cornelius, Myriam Dunn Cavelt, Sebastian Harnisch and Wolf J. Schünemann.

The full text of this open-access journal is available online, including a .pdf of From Anonymity to Identification. As Larry Solum likes to say, download it while it’s hot.

Here’s the abstract for “From Anonymity to Identification”:

This article examines whether anonymity online has a future. In the early days of the Internet, strong cryptography, anonymous remailers, and a relative lack of surveillance created an environment conducive to anonymous communication. Today, the outlook for online anonymity is poor. Several forces combine against it: ideologies that hold that anonymity is dangerous, or that identifying evil-doers is more important than ensuring a safe mechanism for unpopular speech; the profitability of identification in commerce; government surveillance; the influence of intellectual property interests and in requiring hardware and other tools that enforce identification; and the law at both national and supranational levels. As a result of these forces, online anonymity is now much more difficult than previously, and looks to become less and less possible. Nevertheless, the ability to speak truly freely remains an important ‘safety valve’ technology for the oppressed, for dissidents, and for whistle-blowers. The article argues that as data collection online merges with data collection offline, the ability to speak anonymously online will only become more valuable. Technical changes will be required if online anonymity is to remain possible. Whether these changes are possible depends on whether the public comes to appreciate and value the option of anonymous speech while it is still possible to engineer mechanisms to permit it.

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