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Policy

aims and issues

Aims
Issues
FoE
Privacy
Anonymity
  Digital Rights believe that a firm protection of anonymity is needed on the Internet - not only to protect the users privacy when visiting controversial sites but more importantly to express political and other beliefs without fear of retribution.

The right of privacy has one fundamental precondition; that one is able to control disclosure of personal identity. In the physical world this control is easily achieved in most aspects of daily life. When you go shopping, talk to people on the street or read newspapers in the local library you only make your identity known to your surroundings, if you decide to do so. In cyberspace this assumption is reversed. Not only do you leave digital footprints with any site you visit and with anyone you communicate with, but the technique also allows for many different actors to collect this information. The communication environment on the Internet in this regard is much more open and unprotected.

For these technical reasons protection of anonymity becomes much more important within cyberspace than in the physical world. And there are technical means to achieve anonymity. One way to become anonymous, of course, is to avoid disclosing your identity to your Internet-service provider. Another possibility is the use of technical means, like anonymous remailers and other third party-techniques to hide one's identity. In both cases you do not reveal your name, but it is possible to trace the location of the computer used.

However, efforts are being carried out to limit the possibilities of accessing the Internet anonymously. And not only in countries with democratic deficits. For instance the G-8 has considered a proposal to require caller identification for Internet users. In certain countries laws to this end have already been implemented. Laws requiring Internet Service Providers to keep records of the communication of their clients have also been adopted in several countries.

The logic behind such approaches is to provide law enforcement with the best possible means to fight crime on the Internet, i.e. distribution of child pornography or libel. But limitations to anonymity will affect anyone using the Net, and the question is how far we should allow law enforcement issues to set the agenda for the every day life on the Internet?

The mere fact that the Internet gives law enforcement extremely efficient tools at hand does not mean they should necessarily be used if the cost outweighs the gains. So far the right to anonymity as part of the right to privacy has not gained much attention the public. Digital Rights want to promote a discussion on how the issue should be addressed by governments as well as the private sector actors, like ISPs. Furthermore Digital Rights will follow the development of technical solutions providing anonymity.