Anonymity isn’t a bug

Despite the bad rap it sometimes gets, anonymity – and anonymity technology – is used all the time by everyday people. Think about it: just walking in a park without being recorded or observed or “going off the grid” are common examples of people seeking to disconnect their identity from their activities. via the center for democracy and technology

The problem with anonymity and the modern Internet is we tend to think of being anonymous as either “on” or “off” all the time. The only real reason we can think of to want to be anonymous is to do something evil, to hurt someone, to steal something, or to do something else considered anti-social or wrong.

But there’s a problem with this thinking — it’s much like pitting “the rich” against “the poor,” or any other time bound classification. There are times when I want to be anonymous, and there are times when I don’t care. It’s not a matter of doing that which is nefarious. It’s more about expressing opinions you know people won’t agree with, but which the expression of could cause you material harm, or about being able to investigate something without telling anyone about the situation. For instance, support someone you love has a dread disease — is it right to violate their privacy by searching for information about the disease on the ‘web? And yet how can you hope to prevent anyone with access to the data about your browsing and your network of friends from drawing a conclusion based on actions taken? In some places (like college campuses in the US, for instance), it’s will kill your career to hold certain opinions or beliefs (conservative Christianity in general, for instance). Should people not be able to express their opinions in a way that protects them from the harm of the “twitter storm?” Or what if you move into a house only to find it’s horribly built — if you tell anyone in a way that allows you to be identified, you’ve just lost the value of the house. On the other hand, if you don’t tell anyone at all, you’re letting the builder off the hook.

While privacy can certainly be used to cover a multitude of crimes, it is also necessary to being fully human in any way that really counts.