Revealing identities

Anonymous Anonymous
Tue Sep 7 12:37:41 PDT 1999


I haven't been paying close attention to the latest on the anonymity debate,
so please tell me if the following has been raised before.

In your message <9302260807.aa01498 at penet.penet.FI> of
Fri, 26 Feb 93 08:50:19 +0200 on the subject "Moral dilemma." to the
cypherpunks list, you mentioned that

>One rule is
>that I *never* reveal the true identity of an anon user,

While I believe that you should be able to use any policy you want for
this sort of thing, I do not believe that both your server and this policy
can survive together.

Because you/the-server cannot censor the content of anonymous postings/mail
(you lack the time, and knowledge of what is legal in every corner of the
world), you can only withdraw someone's anonymous posting permission in
response to complaints to something that they have already posted. I believe
that eventually, someone will post something so damaging/incensing that
sufficient pressure will be applied that either: the service cannot continue
(e.g. disconnected from the network), or you will be forced to reveal or
destroy the mappings between alias(es) and user(s). For example, on the
cypherpunks list, the question of what would happen if someone claiming
responsibility for the New York bombing posted through the anonymous server.
Bodies in the US (from people providing parts of the Internet service through
to political and criminal bodies such as the FBI/CIA/NSA) could easily apply
very strong pressure. Unfortunately, I feel that this pressure will come
sooner rather than later because there is nothing preventing people opposed
to the anonymous service from making these postings merely to discredit your

I think that there *MAY* be a way around this. I assume the reasons behind your
non-disclosure policy are:
i.	You cannot decide which identities should be revealed.
ii.	Revealing an identity removes their anonymity from all of their
	previous postings, some of which may have had reason to be anonymous.
	For example, I think it "unjust" to reveal what someone wrote to because they violated copyright or whatever in some
	other group.

The second of these reasons could be avoided by permitting anonymous users
to have a different alias for each posting that they make. This would increase
the loading on the alias space and records of alias<->ID mappings. I can see
no reason why you would need to reveal all of the aliases of one real identity.

The decision of when an identity should be revealed could be left to a jury:
If you receive a reasonable complaint about a posting (not just a flame, but
something more significant such as copyright violation, libel, etc) then you
would post this complaint to a group of anonymous jurors who decide on what
action should be taken. The plaintiff and defendant could even argue their
positions to the jury, and might advertise on a newsgroup asking for assistance
from relevant groups (e.g. pro/anti-anonymity groups).

The problem now is how to select the jury. Some factors are:
i.	The number of jurors influences the probability that the decision
	can be swayed because of the random composition of the jury. So
	one juror would be too few, 12 as used in orthodox courts might be
	reasonable, etc.
ii.	Jurors would not want to spend too much time on the case, so there
	should be an upper limit on the number of bytes transmitted by
	defendant and plaintiff, and the time span of the case.
iii.	The degree of "consensus" required for a decision. Perhaps 2/3 majority
	is OK, perhaps 75%. The larger the majority required, the less likely
	that the case will be swayed by the composition of the jury, but also
	the longer it would take to reach the decision.
iv.	The jury can't be composed just of users of the anonymous service
	because of their bias. Perhaps jurors could be selected at random
	from the names of people who have posted to the news in the past?
v.	Jurors would have to accept their position -- there's no use in having
	a juror who doesn't read the information passed to him/her.
I feel that the problem of selecting a jury would be easier to solve than
that of defending the anonymous service against the uproar that may result from
some postings. With this judicial process, anonymous users would also be
accountable for what they post.

Some other issues would be
i.	What happens if the jury can't decide?
ii.	What sort of "punishment" is possible? Warning the person? Barring the
	person from anonymous posting? Revealing their identity to the
	necessary body? etc

The idea is *VERY* rough at the moment, but perhaps it has some merit?
As I see it, the good part for the anonymous service provider is that they
do not have to participate in the process (apart from filtering trivial
flaming cases from the judicial system), which will avoid claims of bias and
lessens your already considerable load.


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			Tim Moors

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