Taking the Mystery Out of Web Anonymity
By JOHN MARKOFF July 2, 2010
THE Obama Administration is trying to fix the Internet's dog problem.
The problem, as depicted in Peter Steiner's legendary 1993 New Yorker cartoon, is that on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog. And thus the enduring conundrum over who can be trusted in cyberspace.
The Internet affords anonymity to its users - a boon to privacy and freedom of speech. But that very anonymity is also behind the explosion of cybercrime that has swept across the Web.
Can privacy be preserved while bringing a semblance of safety and security to a world that seems increasingly lawless?
Last month, Howard Schmidt, the nation's cyberczar, offered the Obama administration's proposal to make the Web a safer place - a "voluntary trusted identity" system that would be the high-tech equivalent of a physical key, a fingerprint and a photo ID card, all rolled into one. The system might use a smart identity card, or a digital credential linked to a specific computer, and would authenticate users at a range of online services.
The idea is to create a federation of private online identity systems. Users could select which system to join, and only registered users whose identities have been authenticated could navigate those systems. The approach contrasts with one that would require a government-issued Internet driver's license. (Civil liberties groups oppose a government system, fearful that it could lead to national identity cards.)
...***** Moderator's Note *****
This is long overdue. The lack of any effective means of identification is what detroyed the Citizens Radio Service ("Citizen's Band") in the U.S., and Usenet isn't far behind.
If I had to guess at the one big reason for the success of message boards hosted by Google and Yahoo, it would be that they are run by commercial companies with a stake in keeping the discussion civil and a vested interest in avoiding "the trajedy of the commons" that has affected Usenet.
In the end, people grow up and the circus leaves town. It's time for those who use the Internet to be accountable for their actions.
Bill Horne Moderator