Blair and Bush agree that all internet users
February 25, 2001 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Blair and Bush agree that all internet users should be clearly identified. Which brings up an interesting question: Is anonymity a constitutionally protected right? (In the US or anywhere else?)
posted by Steven Den Beste (17 comments total)
I have no quarrel with identifying paedophiles. However, given W's religious notions, and his alliances with the religous right, I fear a czar to ferret out those they dislike for whatever reasons.
posted by Postroad at 9:32 AM on February 25, 2001

I don't know the answer to this. At least in the US there's been recognized a constitutional right to privacy, because of elements of the fifth amendment, as well as the ninth and some other things. But when I express myself in public, do the listeners have a right to know exactly who I am, irrespective of what I'm saying?

I personally do not ever try to obscure my identity. But there are people who would not express themselves without being anonymous, for whatever reason. If we force them to reveal their identities they will remain silent and their voices won't contribute to the conversation. Perhaps this is a loss.

On the other hand, free speech is not absolute and sometimes we are held responsible for what we say. The libel laws are unquestionably constitutional. Anonymous speech provides ways for people to skirt the libel laws, among other things, without any way of tracing them.

The libel laws recognize that sometimes free speech is harmful. (Another example is the UK's "official secrets act"; the US has an equivalent.) Punishment for harmful free speech is intended precisely to deter sicj harmful free speech. Anonymity removes that deterrence.

So anonymous speech has both benefits and harms. Which are more important? I see three questions: Should anonymous speech be banned? Can anonymous speech be banned under the constitution (of the country of your choice)? Is it possible to prevent anonymous speech? (If the answer to the third question is "no" then the other two questions are moot.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:37 AM on February 25, 2001

By the way: link courtesy of Cryptome.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:38 AM on February 25, 2001

"He told the President he was determined to take a lead in the global battle against internet porn after Operation Wonderland, a two-year investigation which uncovered the true shocking extent of paedophilia online."

2 years? I could uncover the full extent of kiddie porn in like 5 minutes. this is why nothing ever gets done..
posted by outsider at 10:03 AM on February 25, 2001

Is it possible to prevent anonymous speech? Sure. You may not like the world that results though.
posted by muppetboy at 10:14 AM on February 25, 2001

One thing preventing anonymous speech will do: keep women offline. I've always protected my real name from casual users. One of the first experiences many women have when they first log on is the questionable pleasure of getting creepy email. So we go anonymous. Many women I know opt for a sexless nickname so they don't get harassed.

Would clear identification silence me? Oh, I'd probably find a way around it. If I couldn't--then yes, it would.
posted by frykitty at 10:51 AM on February 25, 2001

I'd urge a little mediation here, i.e. critical interpretation of the link. The article is from the News of the World, and refers back to a public campaign that they are spearheading or supporting. It slides back and forth between its proposals and the Blair-Bush agreement without making distinctions.

"The demands drawn up by leading children’s organisations - National Children’s Homes, Childline and the NSPCC - include measures to ensure that all internet users are clearly identified and closer supervision of chatrooms."

Clearly that is a demand but there's nothing in the article to suggest that Blair or Bush acceded to this demand, which would raise serious constitutional issues in the United States. Aside from a joint task force with better coordination than in the past, and "fresh pressure" on ISPs, there's nothing really new here. Indeed the use of the term "pressure" strongly implies that they cannot legally do more.

This self-serving "look what we've accomplished" article is not only poorly written, it's not at all objective journalism.
posted by dhartung at 1:25 PM on February 25, 2001

I'm not so sure that the government can't already find out who's doing what on the internet. It's a little more complicated than "Google-ing" someone, but it can be done. This sounds like alot of hot air being blown.
Should the any constitutional amendment cover the right for someone to post naked pictures of your five year old neice? No. Pedophilia is a crime that has nothing to do with free speech or a citizen's right to privacy. What about the privacy of the kid being molested?
posted by xtrmntr at 3:39 PM on February 25, 2001

online privacy, right now.
posted by lescour at 5:11 PM on February 25, 2001

Xtrmntr (how does one pronounce a word with no vowels?): Yes, this specific case is about something indefensible. I'm no more in favor of kiddy porn than anyone else.

But when someone decides to massively infringe freedom, the usual way of doing it is to pick an indefensible opponent, but to use that as an opportunity to impose draconian remedies which go well beyond what is necessary to deal with the ostensible target. That was what CDA did; in the name of protecting children it imposed such a broad remedy as to seriously impede many other things.

And it was struck down in court for that reason. At least in the US, there is strong court precedent that any remedy must be a specific as it can be. If the only remedy for protecting children against porn (the ostensible motivation for the CDA) also infringes the ability of adults to access constitutionally protected speech, then the remedy is unconstitutional.

So it is here. Is destruction of anonymity the only way that online pedophilia can be fought? Isn't there some more specific way which is less broad to do it? Certainly there is; we see arrests being made all the time.

So at least one thing is clear to me: this solution is too broad, if all it is supposed to stop is online pedophilia. Which leads me to believe that those proposing it have a much broader agenda, and they're using this issue as a Trojan Horse.

And that is why we must be alert to this kind of thing; using the demon of "pedophilia" as a screen people can try to slip through drastic infringements of freedom that affect everyone, even those of us who are not violating any law.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 5:13 PM on February 25, 2001

ok, it's not enough simply to post the zero knowledge link and be done with it.

i think taking advice about privacy issues from a country (great britain) that feels that each and every email you send should be filtered through the government's central clearinghouse is dead wrong.

fuck blair. fuck bush.

-posted non-anonymously, but that is *my* choice
posted by lescour at 5:19 PM on February 25, 2001

The government can break any Constitutional amendmentin the interest of national (read: Federal Government) security (see the Selective Service law for details).

I don't see a law enacting Internet identification making it very far in Congress, unless it has plans to sacrifice a million or so young men in a senseless war in Southeast Asia...

Seriously though, I'd like to know what the compromise will be as far as privacy vs. kiddie porn. Otherwise, it might not fly...
posted by Capn_Stuby at 5:23 PM on February 25, 2001

Steven> I appreciate your efforts to enlighten me, but I saw nothing in the article that led me to believe my privacy is in any danger. ISP's should be held accountable for distributing ILLEGAL pornography, which is akin to aiding and abetting. This "free speech" mantra doesn't cut it and neither does the paranoia that appears to have set in.
For the record (men in black, take note):I may not support Bush on every issue, but he is not Hitler, nor the Anti-Christ, nor even the reincarnation of J. Edgar Hoover. This is not a dictatorship and he will not overthrow the Democratic party and secure our souls for the Prince of Darkness or Jerry Fallwell. *sigh* We still have a checks and balances system, Herr Beste, and it works wonders, as in the CDA case you invoke.
Lastly, taking a cheap shot at a screen name is something I would expect in an AOL chat room, not a place like this where the regulars are slightly more sophisticated.
posted by xtrmntr at 7:03 PM on February 25, 2001

Fair enough, I should have said web host, assuming that the hypothetical kiddy porn site is using an outside server as opposed to buying their own.
Obvious lie? Am I under oath here? Obvious mistake, which I will own up to.

posted by xtrmntr at 10:51 PM on February 25, 2001

By the by, the rest of you flamers can hold your fingers for the time being. I'm off to Vegas in a few hours and will be gone til Thursday night. At which time, assuming you haven't run out of steam by then, you can tell me what I jackass I am.
posted by xtrmntr at 11:08 PM on February 25, 2001

It's a nice thought but it'll never come to a full reality. Reason being, that your identity isn't hidden to begin with unless you proxy everything and put up with the performance cut. Obviously, there are other things out there folks would want to remain anonymous against than porn. Also, once (and if) it's mandated, people will react quickly efficiently to find a new way hide their indentity....making it harder to determine who's who than it is now. See my point? Pedophilia is horrible....true. Drugs are bad....a good portion, yes. But would any american opt to have camera's installed in their house as if their house was a privilage...not a right? It's not another CDA because it hasn't gone anywhere within the legal system yet. But if it does, I am sure it will be struck down due to it's impact. Who cares about free speech? It's all about money and politics.

Anonymous Prohibition.
posted by samsara at 5:46 AM on February 26, 2001


posted by Optamystic at 10:07 AM on February 26, 2001

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