Thursday, March 29, 2007

not everyone who owns a ski mask is a criminal

ok, so that is a ridiculous blog title. but it illustrates the dangerous oversimplification we tend to fall into when discussing societal issues.

Mike Rothman says anonymity is for cowards. To borrow a quote, I call bullshit on that. Anonymity is nothing more than a technique to promote privacy and safety. Do cowards use it to threaten and intimidate others? Yes. Do criminals use it to carry out illegal action? Yes. But that doesn't make everyone who tries to protect their privacy a coward or a criminal. People have a right to share their opinions without advertising their personal information to the world. Many people don't want their personal opinions to be misquoted or presented as if they are officially representing their employer – should they be forced to stay out of the public discussion of a topic as a result? Anonymity has often been used by people who fear retribution from those who disagree or disapprove of their statements or philosophies. All these people deserve anonymity and to not be called cowardly.

Being anonymous is a choice, one that becomes even more attractive when you see what has happened to Kathy Sierra. If she blogged anonymously, she might not feel in as much danger as she does now. Am I blaming her? Absolutely not. She has a right to speak her mind openly without being threatened and abused, and the people who have harassed her should be held accountable. I can't imagine being in her position, I'd be terrified out of my mind. But that is one of the reasons that I try to retain some anonymity.

The Kathy Sierra situation has ignited the blogosphere in a way that HD Moore and his new tool Torment haven't. Earlier this month HD announced a rough set of tools that allows anyone operating a Tor server to attempt to track the source of network data. Moore's goal in creating the tool was to track criminals such as child pornographers, and he says he plans to turn the tools over to law enforcement to use. Can his tool be mis-used and the personal privacy of legitimate Tor users be compromised? Yes, sort of. (read the entire article to see some of the limitations of the tool). Is everyone who uses Tor a criminal? No, that is not what anyone is saying here - and if you are, then shame on you for oversimplifying a complex social issue.

Until we establish a utopian nirvana where anyone can trust everyone, and honest disagreements don't result in retribution/bloodshed, there will always be a need for anonymity. The key is to find ways to work together to protect innocent users while making it possible to catch and stop the people who have figured out how to leverage anonymity and privacy tools for criminal or abusive purposes.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said. Stereotypical argumentation is all too common in the security business.

4:16 PM  

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