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UK Government Report Recommends Ending Online Anonymity 282

An anonymous reader writes with a bit of pith from TechDirt: Every so often, people who don't really understand the importance of anonymity or how it enables free speech (especially among marginalized people), think they have a brilliant idea: "just end real anonymity online." They don't seem to understand just how shortsighted such an idea is. It's one that stems from the privilege of being in power. And who knows that particular privilege better than members of the House of Lords in the UK — a group that is more or less defined by excess privilege? The Communications Committee of the House of Lords has now issued a report concerning "social media and criminal offenses" in which they basically recommend scrapping anonymity online.
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UK Government Report Recommends Ending Online Anonymity

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  • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @03:59PM (#47576755) Homepage


    In the UK there is no compulsory identification. My brother does not have a single identification document. No driving license, no passport, no "ID card" (we've never really issued them since WW2 except for a brief, abandoned, experiment*). He has a normal life.

    So, what are you going to use for ID? National Insurance Number? It's meaningless and doesn't correspond to much. It's not even CLOSE to the American SSN, and you can freely give it away without fear.

    Driving license number? Some people don't drive.
    Passport number? Some people don't have a passport at all, and may never have had one.

    Then, you're into pseudo-ID that isn't definitive and isn't legally required.

    The UK is one of the few countries in the world where it's perfectly legal to NOT CARRY ANY ID WHATSOEVER. If you're ever challenged by police, they can ask you to prove who you are but that "proof", because of the "no ID card" thing, can be as low as someone recognising you. Precisely because there is no single definitive means of identification.

    So, in that atmosphere, how any single website would ever be able to "authenticate" your ID, I have no idea. Banks generally require two forms of ID to open a bank account, which can include things like bills addressed to you, and a wage slip. Neither are actually proof of ID, but you can get a bank account with them.

    My brother ran into no more trouble than usual getting a bank account. He has no definitive form of ID in existence. How does that translate to a non-anonymous Internet?

    *We had a voluntary ID card scheme a couple of years ago. It was completely abandoned and all the people that paid for the cards wasted their money and never got a refund. The cards are useless and now not accepted as proof of ID, despite a hugely complicated sign-up process. I can just imagine the response to "another" ID card fiasco....

  • Real report link (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 31, 2014 @04:10PM (#47576833)

    After many clicks, I came finally to the real report and the section on Anonymity.

    http://www.publications.parlia... []

    and the bold part is here,

    From our perspective in the United Kingdom, if the behaviour which is currently criminal is to remain criminal and also capable of prosecution, we consider that it would be proportionate to require the operators of websites first to establish the identity of people opening accounts but that it is also proportionate to allow people thereafter to use websites using pseudonyms or anonymously. There is little point in criminalising certain behaviour and at the same time legitimately making that same behaviour impossible to detect. We recognise that this is a difficult question, especially as it relates to jurisdiction and enforcement.

    So it seems they are not complete idiots, just trying to make things easier for investigative purposes. How they want people to identify themselves, well, that's another story.

    Your truly,

    CAPTCHA: thanks

  • Re:Tomorrow's news (Score:4, Informative)

    by hguorbray ( 967940 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @04:34PM (#47577073)
    The sad thing is that in recent years the Lords have been the main supporters of privacy and human rights in the UK government and are in fact more progressive and against government overreach than the House of Commons -partially because they are more non-partisan and not beholden to party or private interests for their positions (apart from being born or made a lord of course)

    -I'm just sayin'
  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @04:52PM (#47577271)
    One of the techniques the government has for allowing the discussion of sensitive issues, without starting a witch hunt is called The Chatham House Rule

    Meeting held under this rule do not allow the the disclosure of who said what. The "what" can be reported, but no-one is permitted to say who said it. That permits people to express views, or ask "what if" questions (and get considered, informed answers) without having to always play to the (media) audience and make guarded, ambiguous and watered-down statements.

    Since the government recognises the value of these sorts of meetings (as well as the established protocol of "off the record" briefings, which cannot be quoted) it's ludicrous that they would think that removing anonymity would be a good idea. This can only be one of those "silly season" media reports, usually made up by journalists who are bored as politicians are away during the summer months.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 31, 2014 @05:20PM (#47577503)

    If they want to end anonymity, then they need to stop lying and just call themselves a police state, and make everyone forget about things such as "fundamental liberties."

  • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @05:24PM (#47577537)

    What happens when someone steals someone's account and does bad things?

    Cyber bullying tends to takes place over a period of months years. A single death threat sure... you can use that defense and get away with it, with nothing more than "now change your damned password" and don't share it.

    But weeks on end? After multiple incidents reported?

    "I'm sorry your honor, those darned hackers just keep breaking into my account every single day... and I'm really trying to keep them out. And all the witness testimony about how I hate the victim, and was a beast to her at school...its all lies. And those texts sent bragging about making the bullying posts from my phone after 11 different incidents -- um you know... I'm always leaving my phone where strangers can have a go at it..."

    That's the thing about evidence. It accumulates until you are "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt".

  • by Space cowboy ( 13680 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @06:25PM (#47577907) Journal

    This is a very US-typical way of thinking.

    In the UK, it's more of a "where is the harm" approach. If there is more perceived harm in the exercise of said speech than in allowing it, it won't be allowed. This is more difficult to administer (it means someone, usually a judge) has to make a decision about this rather than it just being black and white. It does make life more pleasant for more people.

    Having lived in the UK and the US for over a decade each, I have some perspective on this, and personally I think it's worth it, worshipping at the altar of "Free Speech At All Costs[*]" is an absolute, and I tend to distrust absolutes.


    [*] It's not a real absolute in the USA, you can't shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre in the US either, for example, but it's a massively more common mindset of US people compared to UK people in my experience.

  • by Warbothong ( 905464 ) on Friday August 01, 2014 @08:58AM (#47580645) Homepage

    You're forgetting:

    3a. Rush it through the legislative process, so opponents have as little time as possible to act [] []

"Call immediately. Time is running out. We both need to do something monstrous before we die." -- Message from Ralph Steadman to Hunter Thompson