1993-02-27 - More ideas on anonymity

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From: mjr@netcom.com (Matthew Rapaport)
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: 894740bd7384e04971e5e151bb86d42689d3c78735ca0f0b33b9cdc538e1ecd0
Message ID: <9302272259.AA29137@netcom2.netcom.com>
Reply To: N/A
UTC Datetime: 1993-02-27 23:02:13 UTC
Raw Date: Sat, 27 Feb 93 15:02:13 PST

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From: mjr@netcom.com (Matthew Rapaport)
Date: Sat, 27 Feb 93 15:02:13 PST
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: More ideas on anonymity
Message-ID: <9302272259.AA29137@netcom2.netcom.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

        Hal <74076.1041@CompuServe.COM> writes...
>I think the bottom line is that it will be difficult to provide
>anonymous/pseudonymous postings in a way which won't elicit the kinds of
>strong objections Johan has been facing.  His controls are OK for now,
>but in the long run I think they won't work.

This may be an example of an intractable problem. A case where
legitimate interests are mutually exclusive at least in practice of not
in theory.

If Johan has restricted output due to pressure from those communities,
then he has already been forced to hobble his service's most significant
*potential* benefit to the community. If a serious whistlblower were to
come along with some serious evidence and credibility, it is likely that
he/she would want to post his/her evidence in one or more of the groups
Johan has locked out! I mean no aspersion on Johan here, he is laboring
under pressure I'm sure, and he is a pioneer in all of this, and we are
sharing his experience. I don't mean to take political sides either,
both sides of the debate have legitimate arguments. In the one other
post I made on this topic before, I received but one reply remarking
that I "was preaching to the choir".

On the one hand, we have the principle of free speech and the right to
privacy and even anonymity if we so choose it. Taken in an unrestricted
way, this principle is rather radical (politically). True there are
areas of our social and political lives where a right to privacy and
anonymity are both desirable and generally accepted/practiced (these
vary of course in different parts of the world). But there are other
equally common areas in which they are not.

The strongest pressure against anonymity on the Usenet comes from
quarters where a strong positive pressure exists, on *principle* for
posters to "declare themselves", to "stand behind their words". In a
realm where egalitarianism, semi-anarchy, and bad signal/noise ratio
already make for a questionable mix or product value, "naming yourself"
is a significant benchmark. Even in these groups, most participants
would recognize the need for access to anonymity when it was really
"justified", but such cases are believed to be fairly few and far
between. as gg pointed out:

>The point is that this is a broadcast medium, though without the
>limitations of conventional broadcast.

The mutually exclusive nature of these principles emerges in practice
from what a former boss of mine called the human "ornery" factor. In
this case that some number of individuals will exercise their "right to
anonymity" not because they have to, but just because it's there.
Believe me I sympathize with this view. It keeps authorities and
would-be authorities on notice that there are those who will test the
limits of their rights and signal the rest of us if they are eroding. I
also accept Hal's argument that we are protecting ourselves from
possible future abuses of central authority. But I also sympathize with
the sentiments of the other side, that most of the time it is desirable
to put your name where your mouth/keyboard is. A consensual solution to
this problem depends on a common political viewpoint, something that is
certainly not in the cards for contemporary net participants. Of course
a solution may one day be "imposed", but that will not likely be to
anyone's liking. The likely direction of such an imposition is signaled
by what Dave Clunie experienced at PAX and what Johan is now
experiencing as well.

matthew rapaport     Philosopher/Programmer At Large      KD6KVH
           mjr@netcom.com     70371.255@compuserve.com