What do you need to do Anonymously anyway?

As promised here's a response from the other camp, those who think that we shouldn't need to surf anonymously. Although personally I don't agree with this view, he does make some compelling points.

See what you think ?

What do you need to do anonymously anyway?

A big misconception about opposition to anonymous web surfing is that it has something to do with crime. Like the people who deal drugs or hijack airplanes are out discussing their business on a blog somewhere using fake names.

The idea has been tossed around by some particularly clueless people. There was a book some time back about the secret web site where serial killers hang out discussing their activities. Not only was it completely clueless about how a web site worked, but the idea that serial killers might have a social club is a pretty stupid concept all on its own. At least they didn't have a standing face-to-face meetup at Starbucks or something.

But what we're really worried about isn't actually crime, it's fraud. Central to the social structures of our modern life, we have a notion of who people are. When you work with someone, that's a real person, and you can see that person and speak to him (or her) and even learn something about his family and private life.

If you are going to participate in a community, you need to provide this same kind of notion that you are who you say you are. Without that, you could be anyone. And once the notion of identity is gone, the community structure collapses.

Once upon a time, we had this wonderful thing called the WHOIS database, which contained the registration information of everyone who owned a domain name on the internet. Now we have a notion of "domain privacy," and the registrant information for most newly-registered domains is concealed.

When that domain belongs to a business, this puts you in the disturbing position of buying goods and services from an anonymous person. If that person cheats or defrauds you, there's no easy way to find out who it was. You can't easily serve the owner of the domain with legal paperwork, such as a cease and desist notice.

There are already frustrated authors and artists out there who simply cannot tell someone stealing their work to stop it.

The frightening thing isn't that someone will do something truly illegal or heinous. Anyone bent on doing that is going to find a way. The frightening thing is that when it is normal for honest people to be anonymous, the dishonest people will have a field day.

It's not drug deals and bombers that scare me. It's the one guy who skips around from one place to another, keeping his identity secret all the time, and steals a small amount of money from several thousand people... over and over again. Because that one guy will rapidly become several thousand guys. There will be a course somewhere on how to be that guy.

And when you point out that the only reason they can do this is because we all like to be anonymous, and don't think twice when we can't see a real name and street address... all those millions of people who lost small amounts of money will shrug and say "well, it's not like I want to give up my privacy."

Privacy isn't security. It's the opposite. A primary component of security is what we call non-repudiation: the inability of a person to say he did NOT do what he DID do, because the records clearly show that he did it.

I don't want to know what you do. It's none of my business. I don't care what blogs you read or what searches you make. The only thing I care about is that when you interact with me, I know who you are - and I can find you again later.

This is particularly important when you put people in positions of power or authority, and when you conduct business of any sort. Can you imagine electing a politician who won't tell you his real name, age, gender, or location?

What would you think of a new law that proposes you no longer need identification to get a business license - just pay the fee, and we'll take your word for it that you're qualified to run a business? No more cross-referencing business licenses with other government records like tax liens, court judgments, child support, unemployment insurance... the business just sort of sits there passing money along to someone, and nobody knows whom?

Ultimately, the problem for many of us isn't that you might be doing something terrible. It's that the temptation of anonymity might lead you to do things that are rude or antisocial. And that eats away at the fabric of society, until we're not even really a society at all... just a series of masked, faceless node-points in a massive graph, with no more individuality or expression than an IP address.

I think that's worth resisting. What about you?