Thursday, March 26, 2009

How Important is Anonymity?

I originally wrote this entry on August 31, 2004, and published it on

It has been argued that anonymity is an important and very subtle feature of a minimally acceptable identity management technology.

In fact, the Liberty Project has designed its network identity management protocols to preserve a certain degree of (partial) anonymity acceptable to the European regulatory regime, which is (or used to be?) more strict in its anonymity requirements than the U.S. regulatory regime.

When is anonymity good to have and when do we have too much of it? Perhaps, it is better to ask when anonymity is justified and when not.

Criminals like to be anonymous, and the administrators in Washington often release, to the press, anonymous tips regarding their friends and foes, policies and avowed intentions.

What if someone anonymously releases information (say on the comment section of a weblog) that could cause harm to the person about which the information has been released?

For example, is this subpoena against Indymedia (for pointing to a public list of RNC delegates) even justified or meaningful?

If we take these cases far enough, do we end up with grand jury subpoena against a person who has aggregated (for release) dispersed but publicly available information.

In summary, does the act of aggregation and organization of information become criminal? Does offering the possibility of posting anonymous content on web sites and web logs become criminal?

I'm afraid, when bearing in mind that for some individuals security can be used to justify any limits on rights, there may be no satisfactory, working answers to any of these questions.

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