I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Cyberspace Law over the past three weeks exploring subject matter in ISP Liability for Speech, Anonymous Communications in Cyberspace, and Content Regulation in Cyberspace. A particular facet I have derived more amusement from than normal is concerned with the concept of anonymity. From a technical perspective, true anonymity does not actually exist. We have this illusion of anonymity as we sit behind our computing devices interacting in one way or another with the outside world using pseudonyms while connected to some “random” open hotspots. True anonymity does not exist in the world. Every piece of connected technology makes a confession to the authorities. Even if I lived on a deserted island devoid of all technology, I still have surveillance technology circling the planet with the capability of recognizing my physical identity. Sure, we can make it much more difficult to track our identities but ultimately, there are moments of exposure and with the diligent application of resources, our anonymity evaporates. The best we can strive to achieve would be to obfuscate our physical and electronic identities underneath multiple layers of anonymizing. This is effectively like getting lost in the crowd, however, as I stated already, with the diligent application of resources, our anonymity evaporates.
The legal concepts are both fascinating and amusing. We have all probably heard what is referred to as a Miranda warning. In the United States, go something like this:
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in the court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”
Now to connect the dots about anonymity, specifically anonymous communications. Through the use of aliases and pseudonyms, individuals may mask their true identities in cyberspace. This ability has been marvelous with respect to tearing down the walls of discrimination against any challenged class of individuals. On the flip side, anonymity also raises the potential for abuse, permitting individuals to defame, defraud, and harass other individuals in cyberspace. Under our Constitution, conversely to Miranda, you have the right to speak anonymously. It is not considered a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent.
“Anonymity is the shield from the tyranny of the majority.” (Justice Stevens, 1995)
The right to remain anonymous follows a similar vein. In an effort to balance the interests of allowing injured parties to seek redress in the right to speak anonymously, the court suggests using reasonable and good faith efforts to identify the individual who has allegedly caused the plaintiff’s grievance. Here again, with the diligent application of resources, our anonymity evaporates. It really just comes down to how badly does the other person want to identify you?
I’ve made my career within the information security technology space. For years, my focus has been on protecting identities and intellectual property. I certainly advocate the use of technology to protect those assets. One of the aspects of security and law that provides me with enormous amounts of personal satisfaction is fact as dynamic as the world is, no one including me can truly get ahead of all of the challenges. I’ve never been able to sit still and I do believe my vocation is perfectly matched.