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Esther Dyson Grudgingly Defends Internet Anonymity 516

Posted by timothy
from the shall-I-compare-thee-to-a-summer's-day? dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In an interview, Esther Dyson, chairman of EDventure Holdings, describes anonymity on the Internet as similar to abortion: a bad practice that people should still have rights to. Calling anonymity one of the greatest disappointments of the Internet's evolution, Dyson said: 'I'm pro choice, but I think abortion is an unfortunate thing. I think the same thing about anonymity: Everybody should have the right to it, but it's not something one wants to encourage.'"
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Esther Dyson Grudgingly Defends Internet Anonymity

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  • Why Not? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zach297 (1426339) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:24PM (#26082527)
    Why not encourage anonymity? It doesn't affect anyone so why not encourage it?
    • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Funny)

      by RingDev (879105) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:31PM (#26082665) Homepage Journal

      Here's a test for you:

      On Slashdot Post:
      "IMO Linux is a joke and will never amount to anything that could even remotely compete with MS software"

      At any tech user group meeting stand up and say:
      "IMO Linux is a joke and will never amount to anything that could even remotely compete with MS software"

      And then come back and say that "anonymity doesn't affect anyone"

      -Rick

      • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:03PM (#26083177)
        IMO Linux is a joke and will never amount to anything that could even remotely compete with MS software.

        There. Anonymity doesn't affect anyone.

        • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Funny)

          by sdpuppy (898535) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:12PM (#26083343)
          You're still alive, aren't you?.

          Now you know the difference.

      • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Funny)

        by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:07PM (#26083247) Homepage

        Okay, I just tried this, and DAMN I see the light now. I now fully appreciate anonymity and its ability to keep my person and my clothes free from frothing spittle, multiple-chin sweat, and greasy cheetos stains.

        Though standing a little closer to the door would have had largely the same effect as anonymity. They didn't exactly surge after me like a pride of lions.

      • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:09PM (#26083295)

        So may people incorrectly think that the powerful deserve to be defended from the powerless, completely losing sight of the fact that it is unnecessary since the powerless are incapable of attacking the powerful. These well meaning people are merely reinforcing the inequity. With anonymity the person in your example at least has the option of making their comment. Without anonymity the powerless person loses the power to make the comment, even it it is true, because it they do they will have to defend themselves against the powerful.

        Hint: The vast majority of attacks on anonymity that you hear come from powerful people. This is because the powerless generally do not have a voice. Powerful people have a vested interest in maintaining their power.

        The problem is not anonymity. The problem is that people need to learn to think critically and evaluate everything that is said to them. That way they can spot BS, whether it comes from an anonymous source or not.

      • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Funny)

        by iknowcss (937215) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:48PM (#26083901) Homepage
        Oh! OHHH! Let me do one :)

        You are kidding arent you ?Are you saying that this linux can run on a computer without windows underneath it, at all ? As in, without a boot disk, without any drivers, and without any services ?
        That sounds preposterous to me.
        If it were true (and I doubt it), then companies would be selling computers without a windows. This clearly is not happening, so there must be some error in your calculations. I hope you realise that windows is more than just Office ? Its a whole system that runs the computer from start to finish, and that is a very difficult thing to acheive. A lot of people dont realise this.
        Microsoft just spent $9 billion and many years to create Vista, so it does not sound reasonable that some new alternative could just snap into existence overnight like that. It would take billions of dollars and a massive effort to achieve. IBM tried, and spent a huge amount of money developing OS/2 but could never keep up with Windows. Apple tried to create their own system for years, but finally gave up recently and moved to Intel and Microsoft.
        Its just not possible that a freeware like the Linux could be extended to the point where it runs the entire computer fron start to finish, without using some of the more critical parts of windows. Not possible.
        I think you need to re-examine your assumptions.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Inner_Child (946194)
          Bravo, sir, I think you have just created the perfect troll.

          Mods should take a look at this, as they obviously have difficulty distinguishing a troll post from an offtopic one. A troll post such as this would achieve its core goal - to use misinformation to state their point, goading people into replying to correct or admonish the original poster while the poster gets to sit back and have a good laugh at the people who didn't recognize the post for what it was. The bathroom stall posts that are here ev
    • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by drsmithy (35869) <drsmithy@@@gmail...com> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:47PM (#26082907)

      Why not encourage anonymity?

      Because it also encourages the lack of accountability that goes along with it.

      Or, put more crudely. [penny-arcade.com]

      • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Brian Gordon (987471) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:05PM (#26083215)
        It also encourages people to be able to speak freely without fear of persecution. Without anonymity it would be impossible for whistleblowers to out evil empire corps without losing their jobs and probably never being hired again. Without anonymity we wouldn't have vitriolic bloggers; we wouldn't have this fantastic forum of discourse where we can speak our minds and not worry about being smacked with a lawsuit (well, not including the video professor). It's like the original Forum of Greek polises (polisi? poli?)- no matter how crazy your ideas you can always find someone with whom to discuss them, and it made Greece better for it.

        And anyway, non-anonymity is vapid and trite. Plastering your name over everything you do, waving your tiny banner as hard as you can trying to get people's attention and adoration.. it's pretty pathetic. Just toss in your little contribution and disappear into the crowd with the rest of us.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          It also encourages people to be able to speak freely without fear of persecution. Without anonymity it would be impossible for whistleblowers to out evil empire corps without losing their jobs and probably never being hired again.

          .

          Exactly. It encourages a sub-optimal solution (put up with oppressive corporations and governments, just hide from them) instead of the optimal one (everyone in the world stand up to them and fight them out of existence).

        • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Babbster (107076) <aaronbabb AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:32PM (#26083639) Homepage
          ...said "Brian Gordon?" :)

          Seriously, what you describe in your first paragraph is exactly why many of us who cordially dislike Internet anonymity (I'm Aaron Babb, by the way, hello) understand that sometimes it can be a good thing.

          When I'm willing to use my real name it's not that I'm looking for people to see my e-mail address and say "Wow, that's Aaron Babb! Isn't he awesome?" (I'm not). Rather, it's my way of saying that this is my real name and I don't mind if you know it because I'm not going to be an asshole who is unwilling to back up what he says and/or admit when I'm wrong.

          Not everybody uses their Internet anonymity to be a jerk, but enough do that I wonder if things would be different if they were using their real names. Still, I have no interest in forcing people to use their real names, mainly because it's not really any of my business if someone doesn't want to do so. I'm free to ignore anonymous jerks, just as I'm free to ignore jerks who use their real names.
          • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Funny)

            by Bastard of Subhumani (827601) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:38PM (#26083729) Journal

            Rather, it's my way of saying that this is my real name and I don't mind if you know it because I'm not going to be an asshole who is unwilling to back up what he says and/or admit when I'm wrong.

            [citation needed]

            Sorry, couldn't help it.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by ShieldW0lf (601553)
            Not everybody uses their Internet anonymity to be a jerk, but enough do that I wonder if things would be different if they were using their real names. Still, I have no interest in forcing people to use their real names, mainly because it's not really any of my business if someone doesn't want to do so. I'm free to ignore anonymous jerks, just as I'm free to ignore jerks who use their real names.

            Hi. I'm an anonymous jerk. I'm the one who hit your car in the parking lot and didn't leave his name. Pleas
          • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by _Sprocket_ (42527) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:52PM (#26083953)

            Not everybody uses their Internet anonymity to be a jerk, but enough do that I wonder if things would be different if they were using their real names.

            Ever walk the streets of New York (or any large city for that manner). Whole throngs of people walk around being jerks at each other. And they're doing it right there in person! Right in front of you. Within arm's reach.

            Yeah, sure. Some people are jerks when they're anonymous. But its hardly the root cause of the problem.

        • Re:Why Not? (Score:4, Informative)

          by langelgjm (860756) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:32PM (#26083641) Journal

          Forum of Greek polises (polisi? poli?)

          poleis

        • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Informative)

          by drsmithy (35869) <drsmithy@@@gmail...com> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:49PM (#26083903)

          It also encourages people to be able to speak freely without fear of persecution. Without anonymity it would be impossible for whistleblowers to out evil empire corps without losing their jobs and probably never being hired again.

          I agree completely. Anonymity is a cornerstone of free society.

          Without anonymity we wouldn't have vitriolic bloggers; we wouldn't have this fantastic forum of discourse where we can speak our minds and not worry about being smacked with a lawsuit (well, not including the video professor).

          Of course, that doesn't mean we should encourage people writing inflammatory bullshit just for the sake of it, because they're trolls and know they can hide their bias behind the veil of anonymity.

          Or, in other words, anonymity definitely has its uses, but that doesn't imply it should be encouraged.

          And anyway, non-anonymity is vapid and trite.

          No, it's honest and expected.

          • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by lgw (121541) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @10:12PM (#26085423) Journal

            Why not just create tools that take the annoyance out of trolls, anonymous or otherwise?

            I've been "browsing at -1" since Slashdot invented moderation, and the system of denying attention to trolls *works*. The amout of trolling, and especially crapflooding, on Slashdot has fallen *dramatically* over the last 5 years or so. When's the last time anyone saw a GNAA post? We get less than one racist or gay porn copypasta post per story these days, and clever goatse.cx links almost non-existant.

            There was no change in the difficulty of being anonymous here. There was little change in the maturity of Slashdot readers (arguably the average was less mature while the trolling was falling fastest, in the last year before Digg), yet trolling and crapflooding has almost vanished, compared to the bad years.

            I don't think we need to discourage anonymity. We need to vigorously discourage trolling, and ignoring the trolls is the best way. Technology can help with that.

        • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Inner_Child (946194) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @08:09PM (#26084175)

          It's like the original Forum of Greek polises (polisi? poli?)

          Poleis, actually. That's the first time I've ever gotten to use that particular bit of useless knowledge. Thanks!

      • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Frymaster (171343) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:17PM (#26083415) Homepage Journal

        Why not encourage anonymity?

        Because it also encourages the lack of accountability that goes along with it.

        it's only been six weeks since the u.s. election -- and already people are forgetting the importance of anonymity.

        in the united states, indeed in every western democracy, ballots are secret. no one questions this anonymity -- indeed, it's mandated by law.

        the reason we have secret ballots is simple: the framers of the constitution (any western constitution) realized that people could only truly vote their conscience, express their political preference, if they could do so without fear of reprisal or ridicule. anonymity is a cornerstone of a free and democratic society.

        it's kind of a shame that ms. dyson doesn't realize that.

        • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Informative)

          by DrLang21 (900992) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:30PM (#26083615)
          While I don't disagree that casting ballots anonymously is essential to a free election, when the framers of the US Constitution were around, voting was not anonymous. It was a very public spectacle where everyone cast their vote in the open. This of course enabled intimidation which became a real problem. Thus the adoption of the secret ballot where you dropped your ballot into a box. This too was plagued by problems because the ballots were printed by the individual political parties and looked blatantly different, so it was not very anonymous, though a definite improvement. Finally came the standardized ballot printed by the government.
    • Re:Why Not? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by liquidpele (663430) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:48PM (#26082927) Journal

      Why not encourage anonymity? It doesn't affect anyone so why not encourage it?

      Anonymity is important because it gives people the power to say un-popular things that need to be said without getting mob-lynched for it.

      However, people abuse anonymity too. People act *much* differently when being anonymous, and it's usually not for the better.

  • Is she related to... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rossdee (243626) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:25PM (#26082545)

    Is she related to Freeman Dyson, (inventor of the Dyson Sphere)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:26PM (#26082565)

    I'm pro choice, but I think abortion is an unfortunate thing.

    No, really? Is there anyone who is pro choice who doesn't feel the same way? I mean, I've never heard anyone who was honestly "pro-abortion," just "pro-having the option when life hits the fan."

  • Wha..... (Score:5, Funny)

    by TypoNAM (695420) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:28PM (#26082597)

    So you're saying by posting anonymous cowardly then I'm advocating abortion?

    I almost feel as sorry as when I heard that god kills kittens when I masturbate... those poor kitties.... millions of poor dead kitties... :(

  • by erroneus (253617) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:30PM (#26082635) Homepage

    Anonymity wouldn't be necessary if there weren't so many jackasses out there trying to get us all pregnant with ads, malware or the like. Anonymity is an important part of a user's self-defense when using the internet. So in a way, she is right... it is unfortunate that we need to defend ourselves, but we do. We absolutely need to protect ourselves.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I just don't understand what the problem with anonymous speech is. Or to put it another way, I don't understand what's so great about having a name and number attached to everything. Anonymous speech is NOT a necessary evil; it's nothing less than a fundamental prerequisite to freedom. Why? Because the only way to eliminate anonymous speech is through aggression. Coercion. Physical force.

      Beyond that, anonymous speech is simply a concept which is neither inherently good or bad. It can be used for good, and i

  • I agree (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bruce Perens (3872) * <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:31PM (#26082657) Homepage Journal
    I don't allow ACs on my own blog [technocrat.net]. And perhaps that is part of the reason that the signal/noise ratio is much better than here. There are still "handles", and in the end the only thing I have to identify most subscribers is an email (which can itself be anonymous). But even that much reduction in anonymity seems to prompt people to behave better.
  • Anonymity? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:32PM (#26082685)
    Microsoft rules.
    Google and Apple suck.

    I am a man who likes men.

    George Bush was a great president.

    His son was better.

    Digg is the best place for all news.
  • by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:32PM (#26082689)

    Abortion, if you're not killing a person (tricky thing to define, I admit, but your arm is alive and removing ('aborting') it is no moral problem and I feel the same way about an unthinking fetus.

    I don't understand the arguments that seem to justify murder for the woman's convenience, however, anymore than killing baby after birth for the woman's convenience is acceptable. Even in a future where a fetus can be transplanted into another mother I suspect the "pro-choice" crowd will insist that the mother can still choose to abort it.

    Likewise, with anonymity, I think it's one of the best parts about the internet. It's hardly unfortunate that it makes it difficult for governments to track down dissenters, etc. Sure, people use it for bad things as well, but that's true of ANY freedom. Might as well suggest that "free speech is unfortunate thing that people should still have the right to." People will 'abuse' free speech in other different ways but it's still inherently a good thing.

    • by jav1231 (539129) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:53PM (#26082997)
      Wanna stop abortions of convenience? Give the father a right of writ of abortion. Give him the same ability under the law and that shit will stop tomorrow. "You're honor, I can understand my ex-girlfriend wanting to have my baby and I wish her well but I'm not at a point in my life where kids are plausible. I wish to invoke my right to abort my rights and responsibilities to this child. You know, the same option she not only has under abortion law but also adoption."
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by freemywrld (821105)

        Your suggestion doesn't make any sense and has nothing at all to do with abortion and entirely to do with adoption and custody rights.

        Men already have this right (as do women). An old roommate of mine got his girlfriend pregnant. When they split up he signed away his rights. He will never owe child support and she can never come after it in exchange for him having no rights or claims on the child. Lone mothers who give their children up for adoption also sign away their rights, such as the case of my young

        • by value_added (719364) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @08:22PM (#26084347)

          Men already have this right (as do women). An old roommate of mine got his girlfriend pregnant. When they split up he signed away his rights. He will never owe child support and she can never come after it in exchange for him having no rights or claims on the child. Lone mothers who give their children up for adoption also sign away their rights, such as the case of my younger (adopted) brother.

          You're citing rare cases. What typically happens is the girl gets pregnant, discovers her maternal instincts and decides to keep the baby. The man, at that point, is at the whim of everything she subsequently chooses to do, while she is free to pursue her preferences with the full force of tradition, public sympathy, friends, family and neighbours, the efforts of the local district attorney and a court system eager and able to help behind her. Any rights the man has (a tentative and often dubious set of concepts) are there for him to pursue on his own, with the expenses bourne by him exclusively.

          That's a long way of saying that most men who find themselves in this situation pregnant will spend the next 18 years involuntarily signing off on what typically amounts to 1/4 to 1/3 of their gross income to the woman. If the guy's lucky, he may get visitation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by nsayer (86181) *

      but your arm is alive and removing ('aborting') it is no moral problem and I feel the same way about an unthinking fetus

      You would have made a better argument with "unthinking embryo."

      "Fetus" is a term that is applicable from about the 11th week of pregnancy all the way to childbirth. Is a 1 day pre-term baby an "unthinking fetuses?"

    • by vux984 (928602) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:20PM (#26083463)

      Abortion, if you're not killing a person (tricky thing to define, I admit, but your arm is alive and removing ('aborting') it is no moral problem and I feel the same way about an unthinking fetus.

      You yourself admit its tricky to define.

      Most pro-lifers think an unthinking fetus IS a person, so for them it IS a moral problem.

      And they aren't "wrong" for thinking that. Its a perfectly rational position. After all, your suggestion that simple self-awareness is required before you can be considered a person raises questions about certain classes of mental handicap, people in comas, brain damage, etc... these are a people that are not self aware. And a fetus actually has a very good chance of achieving self-awareness. Like you said, 'person' is tricky to define. So if someone believes the definition includes an unborn fetus, I can see the argument is reasonable, whether I agree with it or not.

      Further, your arm analogy has multiple flaws. An arm is not, was not, and will never be an independent person. A developing fetus has its own unique DNA, and is steadily sliding along a continuum towards being an independent person. I don't see a logical error being committed by arguing that a living organism with its own DNA that is actually developing into a fully 'normal person' should be protected more than a limb.

      And it certainly seems reasonable that it shouldn't be protected LESS than your limbs?

      And that's where it gets interesting... you can't just go in and get your arm lopped off because you feel like it. And its indisputably 'just' a part of you. Yet it would be pretty challenging to find a doctor willing to amputate your arm without a medical necessity. A fetus is arguably a person, and at the very least developing into a person. In fact, where I live at least, it would probably be HARDER to get a healthy arm amputated than to arrange for the abortion of a healthy fetus.

      Hell, I'm pro-choice and that even seems out of whack to me.

  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:33PM (#26082691)

    anonymous posting is NEEDED.

    there are many who want to silence those that post opposing views.

    until we 'fix' that (it will never happen) - the ability to post without tracable info directly to yourself is a MUST HAVE.

    she's dead wrong. this is a fundamental RIGHT, or should be considered as such.

    the argument about spam is different and you don't solve one by 'ruining freedom'.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:39PM (#26082797) Homepage

    Broadband is not a technology issue, it's really a financial issue. How should it be funded? Should it be subsidized? I tend to think not. Broadband is a miraculous technology, and it ought to be able to pay its own way. We need competition; we also need attractive enough propositions [in which] companies will invest.

    Broadband CAN pay for itself... and companies do spend money on infrastructure. The problem is that they won't put broadband everywhere. They only put it in places where they believe there will be a high rate of return on investment. "Cherry picking" leaving every place else without anything more than dialup which is barely acceptable for email. If the nation is to move forward and have broadband everywhere, companies will NEVER do it of their own volition. They have to be required to do so by government mandate. This is what utilities commissions are for. They just don't often include requirements for broadband... yet. And they should.

  • by WorkingDead (1393377) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:45PM (#26082871)
    Every [employer] should have the right to [know what you did last weekend], but it's not something one wants to encourage.

    Every [government] should have the right to [know your personal beliefs on every issue you have ever cared to discus], but it's not something one wants to encourage.

    Every [corporation] should have the right to [research your life to be used for directed marketing], but it's not something one wants to encourage.

    Every [insurance company] should have the right to [your medical history], but it's not something one wants to encourage.

    I don't think many people like the symptoms, but maybe we should stay focused on the actual problem.
  • Retribution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:52PM (#26082977)
    As long as there's retribution in the form of everything from lawsuits to unmask those who disagree with corporations to HR departments including an "Internet Search" as part of the hiring practice anonymity on the Internet is the only way we can enjoy freewheeling and honest discussions.

    Yes there will be bad actors on both sides, but I'll pay that price as opposed to the alternative.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:55PM (#26083033)

    We are entering an age where everything will be recorded for eternity. Every word you speak, every transaction, any time you are in public in view of a CCTV camera or any time a friend of yours captures your image on their cellphone. It's only a matter of time before lax security at the corporations and governments that store the security will be breached and their promises of privacy will be meaningless. Your secrets will be easily found by any Google search. I want to make my opinion known without retailiation.

    As far as defamation goes, why does anyone believe an anonymous source? An anonymous source which cannot be verified. Who cares if an anonymous source writes that you have sex with puppies on the Internet. Journalists spend a great deal of time and effort to maintain their credibility. Do we give everyone on the Internet the same degree of respect?

    Child pornography is a huge problem. A huge problem which will not be solved at all by taking away anyone's privacy. Unfortunately, two perverts can exchange their collections using portable storage devices which will never touch the Internet. Why take away my privacy to implement a measure when criminals can just bypass it.

    As far as terrorism goes, let the terrorists believe that they are communicating without giving up their identities. I'm not under the delusion that if the NSA really wanted to find me, they couldn't. I believe most terrorists avoid the Internet for this exact reason. Stripping the average person of their privacy will not catch terrorists. If everyone has their privacy protected(including terrorists), the terrorists are more likely to have a false sense of security and use the Internet, allowing governement action (with a warrant) to uncover their schemes. Otherwise you need an informant or deep cover agent. Take your pick.

    I don't believe that piracy is an issue. I think most hardcore pirates are incorrigible and will never buy legitimate media. The people on the fence tend to pirate a bit and buy what they want. Think of it as marketing. They like first episode and then buy the box set because it fits nicely on their shelf. People actually do spend money sometimes.

    You can take away my privacy if you can come up with a good reason. As far as I can see it, there isn't a good reason.

  • by fermion (181285) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:58PM (#26083085) Homepage Journal
    Much of this depends on the initial premise. For example, if women are expendable child bearers, then abortions are never necessary. If a women is raped, or if she is going to die, then that is not a big deal. Likewise, if all information must be controlled, then anonymity of any kind is bad, as it allows dissemination of information without the ability to retaliate.

    OTOH, if birth control is widely available, pre natal care is available to all comers, and food, shelter, and education is given to all children, without question or exception, then one can imagine a world in which every child would be wanted. Likewise, if maximum information and open debate were seen as a asset, and everyone was encouraged to have their say, all everyone was honestly listened to, and no one would retaliate based on personal superstitions, then one could imagine a world in which everyone could be open and honest with their opinions.

    In the real world, though, significant militant groups enjoy killing people who disagree with their superstitions. For example, groups have felt the right to kill people [armyofgod.com] who believe differently from them, following a tradition that killed the man that believed that the heart pumped the blood [faqs.org]. Clearly when the righteous feel the right to kill based on beliefs, anonymity is necessary.

    But I will be a rebel and say that even in a perfect world where all superstition was gone, both anonymity and abortion would still have a place. No matter how careful and care full we are, there will still be that one case where a family might have to choose between the mother and unborn child.

  • by starfishsystems (834319) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:58PM (#26083087) Homepage
    The democratic voting process is typically conducted by anonymous poll. In this context, we recognize the crucial importance of anonymity in allowing all citizens to have an equal voice in decisions of common interest without fear of reprisal.

    For decades I have actively promoted the usefulness of strong identity to secure many conceivable uses of the Internet. But voting is one example where both identity and privacy have to be maintained. I don't consider that a "bad practice" but an essential capability.
  • by PolR (645007) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @06:58PM (#26083099)

    PJ has confessed she had to move six or seven times since starting to do Groklaw because she receives death threats she must take seriously. Anonymity is a defense against those jackasses that will bully you or worse in retaliation for spreading ideas they don't like and telling facts they don't want to be known. Insinuating that anonymity could be something dirty is nauseating. The right to anonymity is nothing less than a requirement to Freedom of Speech.

    And yes the bullies and the issuers of threats are doing their misdeeds anonymously. It does not mean anonymity is wrong. Bullying and death threats are what is wrong.

    Or to continue the analogy, kitchen knives are used to murder spouses. Should we consider kitchen knives bad?

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@@@yahoo...com> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:02PM (#26083165) Homepage Journal

    People have thin skin, the desire for control, and the inability to look at context that's the problem.

  • by gillbates (106458) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:07PM (#26083243) Homepage Journal

    Freedom is never the problem. It is the solution.

    Oppression is the problem. When someone uses their free speech rights to trample the rights of others (i.e. libel, etc...), the problem is not that they have free speech. The problem is always a matter of the actual harm caused by said speech.

    Likewise, when people use their anonymity on the internet to hide their crimes against others, the problem is not a matter of anonymity, but rather, the crime committed in the first place. The value of a society where speech is effectively anonymous far outweighs the loss caused by the occasional criminal who uses it to hide from law enforcement.

    Before the internet, and even today, one can send hate mail through the postal service *anonymously*. We didn't shut down the Post Office when the Unabomber used it to send bombs to people, instead, the FBI went looking for the perpetrator.

    I can't help but wonder if Ted Kazinksi (sp?) would have become an internet troll rather than the Unabomber, had he been born 20 years later.

    From time to time, there are people who suggest that we could catch criminals if we eliminated anonymity. They are lying or just plain naive. The fact is, if you remove anonymity from one medium, criminals will use another. Think about that for a moment. Now, in the era of the internet troll, frustrated individuals take out their passions online, rather than sending bombs through the mail. Which would you rather have?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by cdrguru (88047)

      The problem is that Ted Kaczynski could be found by tracing down his movements and actions. There is no correspondence to the Internet.

      If you don't brag and use reasonable caution it is possible to connect actions with a high probability to a computer. It is not certain and it never can be. It does not connect with a person at all, and cannot ever. Unless the person is stupid, you can't use any tracing information available on the Internet to connect to a person. Period.

      What this means is that any crim

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ion.simon.c (1183967)

        When was the last botnet herder convicted of anything? It will never happen.

        Heh. I think that you've missed something.

        Most of those folks are out of the country. (Which country? Most *any* country.)

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:25PM (#26083547)

    If this were a wiki post, I'd use the term "weasel words" to describe the analogy--The author is confusing several issues. Women's rights have absolutely no connection whatsoever to the issue of anonymity online.

    The material issue here is whether the benefits to society in allowing anonymous posts outweigh the harm in doing so. And in the United States, we already have the answer -- we have a long history (albeit, recently screwed up!) of supporting free speech and expression as a general rule. And nowhere does it say that you must reveal your identity to protest -- for example KKK protests. In fact, anonymity is an indespensible tool in a society where it is a moral offense to be different from your neighbors. In every case I've seen where a person clamoured for a secret identity to be revealed one of the following has been true:

    1. Money or economic interest; ie, quash a leaked trade secret, protect a brand name, or a copyright.
    2. Personal attack; ie, Myspace, Facebook, "cyberbullying"; Where someone didn't like being told they were a douche, etc.
    3. Batman
    4. Political dissent
    5. Unpopular viewpoint (NAMBLA, for example)
    6. Illegal; ie, terrorism, white collar crime, etc.

    In my opinion, #4's benefits outweigh the risks and harm caused by all others, and also applies to all others. Things are made illegal (such as file sharing) that are not necessarily in the public interest all the time. Money or economic interests -- money doesn't vanish because someone made a comment, it just goes somewhere else. They're reciprocally free to post their opinions. Personal attacks are a fact of life... Deal with it people. Same with unpopular viewpoints -- they're an anecdote to mass hysteria and mob thinking.

    Anonymity is a necessary first step in political protest, because protest is never necessary when the majority approves... Remove anonymity and what you've got left are circumstances ripe for tyranny either by the few or the many, but tyranny all the same.

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:36PM (#26083707) Homepage

    Yes, Esther, both anonymity and abortion are unfortunate things.

    In a perfect world where people never made mistakes in judgement, where contraception never failed, where women were never raped, where sudden medical complications didn't arise out of nowhere, where events beyond your control never turned your life upside-down without warning, we'd never had a need for abortion.

    And in a perfect world where people with power never abused that power to take revenge against those who made their misdeeds public, where bullies and petty tyrants never attempted to "punish" those who didn't bow to them, where fraudsters never attempted to masquerade as others, where criminals never attempted to use information for illicit gain, and where small-minded people never made life miserable for those who weren't exactly like them, we'd never have a need for anonymity either.

    Pity this isn't a perfect world we live in.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by shiftless (410350)

      You forgot to mention that in this imperfect world, we also have imperfect (and downright immoral/wrong) laws. Anonymity is a defense against bad laws, such as the criminalization of marijuana for instance, amongst many others. And in the case of women having abortions, this imperfect world also has finite resources along with a huge and continuously growing human population. While I wouldn't advocate forced abortions and such like the Chinese are known for, by choosing an abortion a woman is not only servi

  • by Eric Smith (4379) <eric.brouhaha@com> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @07:57PM (#26084015) Homepage Journal
    It is unsurprising that there are many people who would like to do away with anonymity, since there are people who abuse anonymity. However, that's true of all rights, and we don't give up important rights just because some people abuse them. We need to resist the temptation to give up rights, because doing so will make the world a worse place overall, and won't actually solve the perceived problem.

    "The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all." -- H.L. Mencken

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dhalka226 (559740)

      I was actually struck by how similar your post is to the following quote. So much so that I wonder if you've seen it before?

      Either way, both you--and he--are very much correct. The quote:

      The only freedom which counts is the freedom to do what some other people think to be wrong. There is no point in demanding freedom to do that which all will applaud. All the so-called liberties or rights are things which have to be asserted against others who claim that if such things are to be allowed their own rights

  • But. . . (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Thursday December 11, 2008 @08:22PM (#26084345)
    You give people anonymity "rights" by criminalizing disclosure. That doesn't make sense. You shouldn't have to take away freedom from others to create your own "rights".

    This nonsense is getting to the point where rights aren't even a good thing anymore. By that I mean claiming that people have the "right" to be given health care, or the "right" not to be discriminated against, or the "right" to be married. Any right that grants benefits entitlements is not good.
  • by dosun88888 (265953) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @09:18PM (#26084931) Homepage

    Without privacy you have no actual freedom.

    Without anonymity you have no actual freedom of expression.

    Without freedom individual life is pretty meaningless, and choices are arbitrary.

  • by The Second Horseman (121958) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @09:27PM (#26085023)

    The same person who thought the Clipper chip and the government escrow of encryption keys was just okie-dokie and that we should trust experts like her to say the security was good enough is uncomfortable with anonymous speech. I'm shocked.

  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @10:04PM (#26085361) Journal
    If we had a way to create a one login to a single individual, stuff like making a new style of government could take place. Instead of a congress to represent everyone, everyone who cared could vote on every bill up. You could even have people be jurors in every case out there. The old time where everyone could not be in the same place has passed, we are living in a new time where everyone can gather in the same place. Now I'm not saying this is a superior style of government and trials, I'm just saying it is possible.
  • by msimm (580077) on Thursday December 11, 2008 @11:02PM (#26085837) Homepage
    But it's over used. I've been posting under various pseudonyms for years now and I think it abstracts conversation. Creates a feeling of familiarity while simultaneously buffering and isolating the users.

    I'm not against it at all. I use it for all my throw-away activity (sorry, that's ./ too) because some things aren't worth the off-chance of petty reprisal. But if I really want to say something I believe in I think it only detracts when I push my bits as Joeuser123984 (or msimm). Anonymity has it's place, but most of the time it's just pushing *more* space between you and the people you talk to and not for any particularly good reason.
  • Another analogy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by joh (27088) on Friday December 12, 2008 @11:43AM (#26090971)

    Anonymity for defending the rights of free speech is the same as requiring women to wear a full veil so they're free to move in public.

    People don't use their real names on the net to not have to fear any consequences. What they get is that they can say what they want without anyone listening and without changing anything.

    Getting people to hide from each other is the best way to make them powerless and frustrated. They will cry and whine and protest in the virtual world and hide and do as they're told in the real world. It's so easy to vent your frustation online and then to do nothing and change nothing in the real world.

    Yes, anonymity should be a right on the net. But being able to use your name and your identity and actually be an individual being (that is: a not divided being) is a right, too. Freedom does not mean doing what you want as long as you're able to hide, it means doing what you want in the open.

    Anonymity is not free, it comes at a high price. Just like abortion it's not the easy way out.

"The greatest warriors are the ones who fight for peace." -- Holly Near

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