Anonymity vs. Accountability

by Fred Showker

Dear Technology Review

I am a long time reader and subscriber, and have evangelized the value of Technology Review to many people. This is the first time I've really been compelled to write about one of your articles.

I read David Talbot's article "Dessent Made Safer" with more than a bit of alarm. I'm sure the creators of TOR have good intentions, and certainly "How anonymity technology could save free speech on the internet" is a worthy way to write about the evils of censorship -- but to me, the article gives cause for grave concern.

Quote: "Tor is an open-source Internet anonymity system -- one of several systems that encrypt data or hide the accompanying internet address, and route the data to its final destination through intermediate computers called proxies."

The chart "Dodging spies, data miners and censors" clearly illustrates how a user navigates to a web site while circumventing any possible means of tracing where they came from. I understand the slant of the article is to protect people's right to free speech without reprisals and without the fear of detection from potentially oppressive trackers. However, from my view point -- and I'm sure, many others' -- it also looks more like a free ride for cybercrime.

I operate blogs and discussion forums as do tens of thousands of others. These portals of "freedom of speech" are under continual attack by hawkers, spammers, scammers, phishers, malware purveyors and all manner of cyber criminals. In order to protect my readers' right to freedom of speech, I have to turn OFF the open comments and postings and moderate them. The automated bots used by the underworld post relentlessly, sometimes many attacks per minute, making it nearly impossible and impractical to pick out the honest ones.

One of the only, truly effective tools to fight this onslaught is the ability to track, identify and then block the IP address of the criminal attacker. Blocking those IP addresses allows us to provide freedom of speech to honorable posters. TOR, and the concept presented in your article essentially removes those tools and allows the criminal to confidently proliferate attacks.

At a time when 'accountability' is the single last bastion of hope against cyberwar, it seems rather odd that so much effort be put into erasing accountability from the internet. Last year, months and months of hard work and investigation led to identifying rogue registrars, bringing them to accountability. The investigations led ICANN to change their regulations in an attempt to stop bogus, criminal hosts. To track a criminal, one must be able to identify where he came from and where he's located.

Do the evangelists of TOR and similar technology promote accountability evasion in real life? Would they sell air tickets without knowledge of who they are selling to? Would they remove forensic tags from hand guns to mask where the bullet came from? If we could mask our identity, why all the trouble over airport security? Just let me get on the plane, and honor my anonymity.

Perhaps I don't understand or have missed something. They're talking about freedom of speech, and about 'saving' the free nature of the internet -- all the while advocating the removal of the one thing that is ultimately essential to a free internet -- accountability.

I urge everyone who values the internet to read the full article "Dissent Made Safer -- How anonymity technology could save free speech on the Internet.".

Oh, by the way, in spite of the article's premise, Technology Review doesn't seem to actually believe in anonymity. They require you to register, with a reliable and trackable email address, before you'll be allowed to read the article.

Thanks for reading...

Fred Showker

Fred Showker, Editor, Graphic Design & Publishing

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