De-Anonymization on the Net

AnonymousWhat do the German postal service, an American computer game publisher and the People’s Republic of China have in common? Since the last two weeks you can say that they share a common interest in de-anonymizing the netizen on the Internet. Why is that?

Of course, knowing China’s policies towards the Internet, it was China who made the first step. About a year ago, when China went hard on Chinese online bloggers, they started to establish a system where every blogger on the Net, who blogs from inside the country has to register under his real name. Thus, in the likely event of blogging something contraire the régime, the régime can easily find out who to punish. Knowing the Internet’s structure, of course it is still possible to blog without registration. But also knowing the Chinese infrastructure, they might get caught and going to Chinese prison as dissident…hell no!

The second one was blizzard who coded inter alia World of Warcraft. A couple of weeks ago, blizzard’s staff for their forum announced that everyone using the forum should register under their real name and add their nickname only in brackets. I guess this approach is to calm people down, because now they could be identified in real-life, meaning insulting and swearing should be decreased. However, this approach has been stopped one week ago due to pressure coming from the community.

And then came Germany. The German postal system last week introduced a new system where you can register an email account only under your real name. Then, you can write an email and it is send as regular mail to the recipient or the other way around, someone writes an ordinary mail which is then scanned and put into your mailbox. Each of these ’emails’ costs 55 cent. Furthermore, you can also send an completely digital email, which also costs 55 cent but should count as ordinary mail when it comes down to legal terms. Well, good thing if all my private correspondence is now scanned and copied onto Internet servers. Please let us not talk about security anymore. There is no 100% security…therefore I do not want to have any of my private mails digitized and uploaded. Well, what is the problem then? On the first day, already 250.000 people registered, according to the German Post. These people might be unaware! Furthermore, I can see our blessed government introducing a law (lobbied by the German Post) where only emails from this special email addresses will count as legally bound from now on. Oh dear, that is gonna be a mess. Plus, we have to pay for that. Not only do they disregard privacy, security and anonymity as basic pillars of Internet communication, they also made us pay for eroding these pillars.

Just recently I was reading Lessig’s ‘Fate of Creative Commons’. He made the same point there, describing, that the original end-to-end structure of the Internet was designed to not be controlled. But as the code changes, the non-control of the Net might also change. And this exactly is the point, these three examples (which kind of freak me out) highlight. For regular readers of my blog, I guess I do not have to cite J. P. Barlow again. I kind of get the feeling, that the Internet alters more and more. Precisely, it becomes altered by big players to become more and more controllable. Bad thing. You can for example argue, that the German postal service does not change anything on the Net. The problem is, that they kind of educate the people to change their behavior on the Net themselves, which is kind of a very smart move. If the government backs that up, we are screwed. Liberty, Unity and Justice are the pillars of my country… I see liberty eroding very fast.

‘In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States, you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media’ (Barlow)

Leave a Reply