Internet Passport? – by “Shirley B”

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In an interview last month with a reporter from ZDNet Asia, a website about technology offering such services as product reviews, news, and opinion, Eugene Kaspersky, the CEO of Kaspersky Lab, a top computer security company, told a reporter that he thought that the greatest problem facing not only the internet but computers in general was anonymity on the web. His frustration with anonymity on the Internet stems from what he sees as a basic design flaw in the Internet. His point is that the Internet was designed for a small, select, easily identifiable group i.e. the Department of Defense, and that when it was released to the general public its intended audience changed but it’s design did not. He does not propose that we limit the use of the Internet to a select few scientists once again, but that instead we now take the chance to redesign the Internet. His main ideas are a sort of Internet police force – an online Interpol. His second is this idea of driver’s licenses for the World Wide Web. Kapersky said that he felt that access to the Internet should be limited in the same that we limit and control access to airplanes, or driving – we should require something similar drivers licenses or passports to access the Internet. ISPs, he says, are not enough. He likens them to license plates; the plates are but one part of identification; to positively identify someone in the car they need to have their license. Besides the obvious practical problems with this proposal, there are a few philosophical problems I have with both his arguments and with his idea of ending anonymity for the Internet.
Simply because anonymity was not an original aspect of the design on the Internet does not mean that somehow it is bad for the Internet; this is simply a flawed argument. Why is anonymity a negative aspect of the Internet simply because it’s being used in a way it was not originally designed for? Take Ikea furniture, for example. There is quite the following for a site called Ikea Hacker, a blog that posts peoples’ various re-uses of their Ikea furniture, and instructions on how you can do the same. (This is, of course, not the strongest analogy in the world – I mostly just think that this is a great site, but you get my point – his point simply doesn’t follow from what he says about the original state of the Internet).
Of course his greater point is that anonymity and the popular voice somehow hurt the Internet. However, in my opinion, the benefits of anonymity far outweigh the negatives. Even if, in the United States, we don’t legally curb free speech, socially we certainly do, and some people even self-censor and would be far more hesitant to speak if anonymity were not an option. As we read last week in “The coming-out stories of anonymous bloggers:”

“There are things that you know, or that you feel sort of in your heart of hearts, that you might not want to put out there in a public way” with your name attached, she said. “If people always spoke without filters, we’d learn a lot more.”

Her point is not that it makes people happy to be able to anonymously post mean things about others online, or that it’s useful for criminals to be anonymous. It’s that it is socially and politically useful to have anonymity. We need the kind of fearless honesty that is possible in most cases only with anonymity. The amount of information, both facts and opinions, available to us would drop dramatically if people could no longer be guaranteed a safeguard from general public opinion.
The idea of having “driver’s lisences” while on the Internet is also a wholly invasive and paranoid notion. The implication behind this suggestion is that not only could you not have pseudonyms, so to speak, but also you would also have to plainly identify yourself while on the Internet, or be forbid from using it. The ease with which Kaspersky’s new Interpol could identify you presents not only a problem for anonymity but is also an invasion of privacy. While the argument can be made that increased surveillance helps catch criminals, I would also argue that it also catches innocent people and makes them feel like criminals for simply doing something controversial or perhaps personally embarrassing; there is legal law, and then there are social mores. Many argue that if you’re acting completely within the law you should have no problem letting the police check you out. But, while I think that some preemptive measures against crime are justified, I would argue that if I’m acting within my legal limits, as it should be assumed that I am, why should the police need to check me out, even at a cursory level.
Further, perhaps it isn’t even so bad that criminals have this anonymity. After all, it seems to me that Mr. Kaspersky might be out of a job without all of these anonymous criminals emailing viruses around.

We Are Anonymous, We Are Legion – by “Scott S”

“We are Anonymous.  We are Legion.  We do not forgive.  We do not forget.  Expect us.”

No longer just an adjective in the English language, “Anonymous” is now also used to refer the countless members of Internet subculture who choose to protect their identities from the world.   Just about everyone has felt the effect of Anonymous’ presence online and off.  From the net’s ubiquitous lolcats that can has cheezburger or Rick Astley at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the mass of nameless, faceless computer users known collectively as Anonymous are responsible for these social phenomenon.  More interestingly, Anonymous has also been responsible for raids, invasions, activism, protests, and public defamation, via both legal and illegal means, with both good and malevolent intentions.

The idea of remaining anonymous on the Internet has been a topic of debate for nearly two decades, but in recent years, imageboards like 4chan and Futaba 2chan alongside wikis and forums like Encyclopedia Dramatica have proven themselves breeding grounds for users with a dangerous sense of unity and ability to willingness to make a difference in the world around them.  Often, Anonymous’ goal is to cause as much mischief as is possible without causing real harm.  Cases include mass [vulgar] posting on sites such as the anti-profanity “No Cussing Club” and inciting fear on Oprah’s talk show.  For the most part, these practical jokes are not much different than your 8th grade friends prank calling the teacher, just on a much larger scale.

But there is great power in numbers. Under the blanket of modern technology, it seems that members of Anonymous consider themselves masked anti-heros.  There are countless examples of how Anonymous has pulled together to cause real harm.  For one, Anonymous was credited with an attack on Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s Yahoo email account last year.  After discovering the password, a user posted it along with screenshots of personal photos and emails to 4chan.  Since, they have been posted and re-posted to the point that they are publicly available online and can be found with a simple Google image search.  The culprit, David Kernell a.k.a. Rubico, was easily discovered because of several mistakes he made when bragging to posters on 4chan.

Luckily, Anonymous has shown that power in numbers does not necessarily mean a digital Ku Klux Klan.  In addition to terrorizing Sarah Palin, Anonymous has done some good in bringing awareness to the common man regarding topic the media might otherwise glance over.  Project Chanology, led by members of Anonymous, is a group set out to bring about knowledge of the dangers of The Church of Scientology, a religion formed in the US in 1954.  After an interview with Tom Cruise, an avid Scientologist, leaked onto YouTube in 2008, the Church attempted to remove it claiming it was unfairly edited to misprepresent the religion and was intended only for current members of the Church.  Once 4chan discovered the video, it was immediately reposted and remains available to this day.  Subsequently, Anonymous began to band together in public protest of Scientology and was called to arms via a series of videos.  Perhaps most interesting about these videos is that they alert the public that Anonymous is not an elite group of hackers, but rather your everyday man and woman who choose to take action through the force of a faceless army.

Unfortunately, some members of Anonymous decided to take it upon them to take criminal action in the form of denial of service attacks on Scientology owned sites.  After the case was investigated and some identities were uncovered in October of 2008, Dmitriy Guzner, 18, of Verona, New Jersey pled guilty to computer hacking for his role in the attacks which took place during January of the same year.  According to the information filed in United States District Court in Los Angeles, Guzner participated because he “considered himself a member of an underground group called ‘Anonymous.’”

I personally feel that Anonymous was coming one way or another.  Although the intentions of your average 4chan user might be less than ideal, change comes about when groups of people get passionate about something.  If lolcats are what thousands and thousands of users are passionate about, I can’t complain.  If protests and public awareness are what these people are all about, even better.  Even if it is a waste to see such mass amounts of people passionate about pranking the rest of the world, it is good to know that there are ways for people out there to make a difference because others agree with their ideals.  Although not necessarily attributable to 4chan and Anonymous, the recent Iran election protest was a largely Anon type of digital protest.  When I heard of friends doing their part to wreck Ahmadinejad’s web infrastructure, I was interested to say the least.  If something vile like a rigged election occurs in the United States, it’s basically guaranteed that Anon will be on top of it and that they (we?) have the power to do something about it.  That kind of power and freedom is empowering.

Since joining this course, I have done a fair bit of lurking around Anonymous safe havens.  Most of what I see is creepily dark humor mixed with a lot of pornography, profanity, and an occasional glint of useful, interesting, or heartwarming info.  While doing a little bit of research for this post, I found a rather amazing forum thread regarding Anon.  For some people, Anonymous is not just an adjective or even a mass noun, but a rather a way of life.  With anonymity becoming easier and easier, it’s no wonder that people all around the world are taking part in this underground revolution.  Expect us.