1996-02-29 - Re: Strassmann’s Anonymous Remailers Paper

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From: tbyfield@panix.com (t byfield)
To: paul@strassmann.com
Message Hash: aba2b8f3c62da236b589a1eff33d6b8bf46062d15321c0b52021804fac0ac55b
Message ID: <v02120d0aad5a771d4753@DialupEudora>
Reply To: N/A
UTC Datetime: 1996-02-29 01:45:23 UTC
Raw Date: Thu, 29 Feb 1996 09:45:23 +0800

Raw message

From: tbyfield@panix.com (t byfield)
Date: Thu, 29 Feb 1996 09:45:23 +0800
To: paul@strassmann.com
Subject: Re: Strassmann's  Anonymous Remailers Paper
Message-ID: <v02120d0aad5a771d4753@DialupEudora>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

A few observations on Paul Strassman's response to John R. Levine; I've
rearranged it a bit for clarity, edited out a handful of lines, and
whittled down the CCs.

At 4:01 PM 2/28/96, Paul A. Strassmann wrote:

John R. Levine:
> >It's been possible for at least a century to mail letters with no
> >return address.  It's equally possible to use post office boxes and
> >mail drops, or even a chain of mail drops, to have two-way exchanges
> >of messages between people who don't know each other's identities.
> >
> >As far as I can tell, the existence of anonymous postal mail hasn't
> >caused any great trouble over the past century.  Can you explain why
> >the appearance of similar facilities for on-line mail presents a
> >greater problem?

Paul Strassmann:
>Since the idea that Internet remailers are not much different than
>anonymous letters sent by mail is an often repeated theme, it warrants a
>1. Your statement that anonymous post mail hasn't caused any "great
>trouble" over the past century does not stand up well. I have not done a
>statistical sampling of incidents, but I wish to note that all my exposures
>(personal and otherwise) to anonymous post have been associated with
>extortion, spreading of unwarranted rumors and unsubstantiated accusations.
>Most ransom notes in kidnapping cases have been conveyed by this means.

        Obviously, kidnapping and extortion demands sent anonymously
through the post would attract far more attention than innocuous uses
would--as did the recent incident in which someone donated (by anonymous
mail) a million-dollar McDonald's sweepstakes ticket to a children's
hospital. I daresay that for every such criminal instance you could cite,
there are hundreds or even thousands of instances of completely benign
"secret santas" and anonymous valentines from teenage "secret admirers,"
for example--which would hardly bear out your claim that

>In civilized  society the receipt of anonymous post has been always
>associated with unacceptable social behavior. That reputation persists.

        Valentines and gifts sent anonymously will no doubt strike some
people as trivial in the face of "information warfare" and other such
gothic notions, and perhaps they are; but I can only wonder what exactly
these valiant strategists think they're protecting and from whom they're
protecting it.

>2. Your assertion that one can be equally anonymous by post as with e-mail
>does not stand up.
>First, anonymous mail is likely to carry stamp cancellation marks, which
>provides an important clue as to the origin of the message.
>Second, criminal  forensic techniques have been used very successfully in
>tracing identifying marks, such as typewriter characteristics, Xerox copy
>drum defects and other tricks such as genetic identifications of saliva
>remnants left from licking a stamp or sealing the envelope. There are many
>others. Anonymous e-mail does not convey such clues.
>Third, anonymous mail operates on a totally different scale and with a
>different technology than post. The fact that automobiles were originally
>called "horseless carriages" does not make them possess the attributes of
>horse-carriages. When technology scales up from thousands to hundred
>millions, the potential consequences are not subject to simple

        By the same token, the fact that law enforcement agencies have,
over the last two centuries, developed the forms of forensic analysis you
mention doesn't mean that these techniques are a god-given right whose
shortcomings in the face of new technologies need to be compensated for.
These techniques are, as you point out, contingent on the traits peculiar
to the objects being examined. Postal mail consists of integral physical
objects which can bear these kinds of traces; email does not. Nor does
shouting--yet I've never heard anyone suggest that fans at a football game
should preface what they yell with their name and their address, or that
their failure to do so constitutes a threat to national security.

>3. Anonymous remailers have been conduits for misconduct ranging from
>"spamming" - e.g. launching thousands of messages to saturate server
>capacity - to massive distribution of "sniffers" that make a number of
>software-based fire-walls inoperative.

        This objection remailers is a red herring: giveaway ten-hour
accounts on AOL and other services, hacked accounts, accounts obtained
under false names, and accounts obtained under a True Name are much more
notorious sources of spam than are remailers. If spam is your objection,
you're barking up the wrong tree.
        As for the "massive deployment of 'sniffers'," anyone capable of
doing this or of using information gained by this means hardly needs

>4. The most likely scenarios of an information assault on the information
>infrastructure that performs essential social functions such as message
>switching, transportation dispatching, public security communications, etc.
>always commences with a  saturation dispatch of a wide variety of
>intelligent agent via anonymous remailers.

        "Most likely scenarios" are speculative: something that hasn't
happened yet doesn't "always commence with" anything.

>There is a long list of anti-social and criminal behavior that is greatly
>facilitated by a guarantee of untraceability. The repertoire of such
>malfeasances is sufficiently long that it does not warrant further elaboration.

        This chicken-or-egg formulation suggests that a milieu in which
total traceability is possible would greatly diminish criminal behaviors
and activity. Perhaps, but as you yourself have pointed out, such a milieu
is utterly antithetical to anything remotely resembling a free democracy.
Since the alternative to untraceability isn't viable, there's no point in
bringing it up.

>Now, I would like to repeat that I believe that anonymous remailers are
>here to stay - at least in democratic societies. However, that does not
>mean that one should continue insisting that anonymous remailes are not a
>different phenomenon than an envelope containing a message that does not
>have a return address.

        If you were the final arbiter on the question, your repeated claim
that "remailers are here to stay" would be much more comforting.
Unfortunately, the force of almost all your arguments is, in a nutshell,
that remailers are associated with and facilitate criminal and/or terrorist
activities--and that suggests to me that if you had your druthers, they
would be illegalized.
        I'm curious: Do you or do you not support the continued existence
of nonregulated, nonlicensed, and publicly accessible remailers? (Please
note that this is a different question than "Are remailers here to stay?")

Ted Byfield