From Anonymity to Identification

  • A. Michael Froomkin (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


This article examines whether anonymity online has a future. In the early days of the Internet,
strong cryptography, anonymous remailers, and a relative lack of surveillance created
an environment conducive to anonymous communication. Today, the outlook for
online anonymity is poor. Several forces combine against it: ideologies that hold that anonymity
is dangerous, or that identifying evil-doers is more important that ensuring a safe
mechanism for unpopular speech; the profitability of identification in commerce; government
surveillance; the influence of intellectual property interests and in requiring hardware
and other tools that enforce identification; and the law at both national and supranational
levels. As a result of these forces, online anonymity is now much more difficult
than previously, and looks to become less and less possible. Nevertheless, the ability to
speak truly freely remains an important 'safety valve' technology for the oppressed, for
dissidents, and for whistle-blowers. The article argues that as data collection online merges
with data collection offline, the ability to speak anonymously online will only become
more valuable. Technical changes will be required if online anonymity is to remain possible.
Whether these changes are possible depends on whether the public comes to appreciate
value the option of anonymous speech while it is still possible to engineer mechanisms
to permit it.


Internet, Privacy, Anonymity, Surveillance, Speech