1993-02-27 - Re: more ideas on anonymity

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From: Hal <74076.1041@CompuServe.COM>
To: <cypherpunks@toad.com>
Message Hash: a2e517d70d74ff2c8fbdaad67a47090716d5eee13f913f65ae5adee82e21e504
Message ID: <93022702414774076.1041_DHJ57-1@CompuServe.COM>
Reply To: _N/A

UTC Datetime: 1993-02-27 04:38:18 UTC
Raw Date: Fri, 26 Feb 93 20:38:18 PST

Raw message

From: Hal <74076.1041@CompuServe.COM>
Date: Fri, 26 Feb 93 20:38:18 PST
To: <cypherpunks@toad.com>
Subject: Re: more ideas on anonymity
Message-ID: <930227024147_74076.1041_DHJ57-1@CompuServe.COM>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

Ted Ts'o is right that anonymity can be used for many harmful purposes.  
On the other hand, as Tim May suggests, attempts to control the flow of 
information can easily lead to restrictions which do more harm than what 
they try to prevent.
Although I assume that most people here share a commitment to the 
overall goals of what Tim calls "crypto anarchy", it's possible that we 
all have different reasons for our support.  My own angle is that these 
techniques enhance privacy and provide power to individuals which can 
counterbalance the influence and authority of large institutions.  I've 
been influenced in this mostly by the papers of David Chaum.  For me, 
crypto anarchy is a way to oppose the constantly growing databases of 
information about each person, a way for individuals to take control of 
information about their own lives.
This is why I like one particular justification for anonymous posting 
that I read, that people should be free to choose for themselves how 
much information to reveal when they post.  I worry that, although the 
networks are in their infancy today, there may come a time when all 
information ever posted to Usenet is online, accessible, and searchable 
in a few seconds.  The posters' email addresses may be cross-linked to 
their current names and addresses.  Anything you post today may come 
back twenty years from now to haunt you.  (Already, the archives are 
being kept, so all that is needed is technological improvements to put 
the information on-line and allow that huge volume of data to be 
usefully searched.)
Now, you may say, so what, 99% of what is posted on Usenet couldn't 
possibly interest anyone anyway, and besides, I'm not posting anything 
anyone would care about.  This may be true, but think about how much you 
reveal about yourself over a period of time if you are an active poster.  
Imagine all of that information being available to every potential 
employer or new neighbor.  Imagine trying to run for public office!  I 
simply don't like the idea of everyone I meet potentially knowing my 
hobbies, interests, political affiliations, sexual preferences, and so 
These same considerations apply in many other areas of our lives.  
Financial transactions can supply a lot of the same information.  So can 
phone records.  Perhaps someday our cars will be tracked routinely to 
collect information about where we go.
Uncomfortable as I may be with personal and private facts being used by 
marketers and employers to evaluate me, there is also the possibility of 
even more sinister uses.  Imagine how a dictatorship could exploit this 
much detailed information about the daily lives of its subjects.  
Probably "that will never happen here" but the mere possibility should 
provide another reason to guard our privacy.
I imagine most people here agree with the thrust of these arguments, so 
I won't go on.  But the point is that anonymous/pseudonymous 
communications can provide real benefits to all members of society.  
It's not just a romantic attraction to bomb-throwing revolutionaries or 
an elitist desire to escape the clutching hands of the greedy masses 
whcih drives us.  I believe that the benefits that crypto anonymity can 
provide to society will clearly outweigh the problems.
Hal Finney