Australian Government Proposes Stripping Internet Users Of Their Anonymity

from the another-fix-for-what-isn't-even-broken dept

I thought we had put this sort of idiocy behind us, but I see it’s back again. In 2011, some German politicians suggested the country’s youths be required to obtain some sort of internet driver’s license following a party that got out of hand after a private Facebook invite was accidentally made public. Somehow, obtaining an ID to use social media services would prevent this from happening in the future, but officials were extremely light on details.

Five years later, our own DHS came up with pretty much the same idea. The DHS’s attaché to the European Union suggested the online presence of terrorists and child pornographers demanded an across-the-board reduction in privacy for everyone. The only difference here was the analogy: rather than a driver’s license to use the internet, all internet “travelers” would have to display some form of internet “license plate,” making them readily identifiable to the government.

Two years later the idea resurfaced again, with the UK security minister pretty much repeating the DHS’s suggestion from 2016: an internet driver’s license that would allow law enforcement and other government agencies to readily identify anyone online, like predators grooming children in chat rooms or perpetrators of harassment.

But that was the last decade. Surely, we’ve seen the folly of demanding ID to use the internet, what with the serious complications it can cause for plenty of people who aren’t engaged in criminal activity. Anonymity protects more than just the worst internet denizens. If this idea has had a decade to stick and still hasn’t, perhaps it’s time to finally let it go… oh never mind. Just last month, Senator John Kennedy announced his plan to introduce a online anonymity ban. If you need a list of reasons why this is a bad idea, Mike Masnick helpfully included a very long one in this post.

Less than two months later, the Australian government is pitching its own anonymity ban.

The cross-party report – chaired by Queensland LNP MP Andrew Wallace – called for users to be required to present 100 points of identification – which could include a driver’s licence, birth certificate, Medicare card, or passport – in order to open or maintain an existing social media account with companies such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

The suggestion is that the measure would prevent people from using anonymous accounts to abuse and harass others.

This is the same report that notes plenty of people who benefit from online anonymity (LGBTQI persons, victims of domestic violence, minors, etc.) are in need of more protection and services. The report still somehow fails to recognize the damage stripping these users of anonymity would cause.

It also fails to recognize the simple fact that plenty of people using their real names engage in abusive and harmful behavior online all the time. There’s a whole cottage industry of “conservative” figureheads complaining about being deplatformed for the terrible things they’ve posted using their real names.

The other justification for this bizarre push for mandated deanonymization is existing laws in Australia that also strip the country’s residents of their privacy.

“In order to open or maintain an existing social media account, customers should be required by law to identify themselves to a platform using 100 points of identification, in the same way as a person must provide identification for a mobile phone account, or to buy a mobile SIM card,” the report suggests.

Two wrongs make a right, I guess. But it will be Australia’s most marginalized residents who suffer the most if this becomes law. That’s completely at odds with the aim of the entire report, which suggests the government should do more to protect these people. The government’s cognitive dissonance is going to cause more harm than it prevents.

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Comments on “Australian Government Proposes Stripping Internet Users Of Their Anonymity”

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43 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

this is the sort of thing to expect from the Australian government nowadays. the bigger problem is, how long before it spreads to every country and, yet again, only ordinary people will be affected, while those who bring in these rules will expect to maintain not only their anonymity but also their total privacy? things are getting markedly worse but only for ordinary people! the elite are being protected, usually because they back those in government and/or the shadow government and see how long it is until there is a total banding together of governments everywhere. it was tried under the EU and has failed and it will continue to fail simply because there is always one country that wants to be in charge, in control of all the others and it uses it’s might to ensure that happens! remember this sort of thing happening before? try 1939-1945 WWII and you’re getting close!

Blake C. Stacey (profile) says:

What a fantastic way to put millions of people’s personal data at risk without providing a gram of real protection for anyone.

In addition to the other ways in which it is terrible, this also sounds like another entry in the "Facebook and Twitter are the Internet" mode of completely broken thinking. Does anyone who wants to start a Mastodon instance have to be a passport repository?

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Why would we care if those... 'things' were treated badly?'

It’s telling that even in a report noting that disadvantaged groups and individuals stand to suffer greatly under a mandatory online ID program the suggestion is still to go ahead, really makes clear how much they they care about those groups and the ‘harms’ from anonymity.

This will result in massive amounts of identity fraud and harassment of people who already face harassment, so the idea that this is to protect the public goes right out the window, and with that ruled out the only thing left really is the ability of the non-powerful to speak out against the powerful without identifying themselves in the process, something which this would nicely nip in the bud.

ECA (profile) says:

Eye exam time

Hmm, how to enforce this, in 9/10 of the world..
Even if we can get the EU/Aussie/North america to do it.
~150 other nations, and Still 8/10 of the world.
Would love to enforce this in Kamchatka.

Then we get this strange thought. What is connected to the net.
EVERYTHING.
So we regulate.
Cellphones
Computers
Refrigerators.
Toys
House hold devices that control LIGHTS, Toasters, everything else.
Drones?
Airplanes?
SMART TV?
DVD?
Dont need to continue,
Just consider your home EMPTY.

GHB (profile) says:

Really hope this does not become commonplace.

A real-name system is concerning. Because I’ve experienced sites that REQUIRE an account (also known as login walls, registration walls, “members-only” etc. especially if it is free) just to VIEW posts, like sites that facebook owns (obviously facebook itself too) and NextGenUpdate. On top of just being inconvenient, but some even ask for sensitive information such as your address and phone number.

I’m tolerant if banks, or some non-profit sites do this, as long as it is reasonable, but for something simple to be gated is problematic because we all know what happened on lesser-trusted companies like what happened on facebook over the years, and plus, you could be subpoenaed, stalked and harassed if that data gets leaked.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

From the TAC playbook…

Require all elected officials to do this first for at least 5 years.
Require them to disclose all accounts they use & 100 points of data.
Require them to stop using encryption.

They always think this is a great idea until it comes to it applying to them, perhaps if they showed us how willing they were to do this & put their 100 points of data in a great big honey pot that will be raided early and often first they might understand.

Oh noes someone was mean to me online wait let me check… why yes nearly every platform offers a way for me to block that person & to report the harassment.

A solution in search of a problem, to hide the real problem… our leaders need the ultimate power to identify everyone so they can use that fear to keep hiding their sins.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Fear? No. Control? Yes.

The goal here is to make it painfully obvious that you are to obey Authority without question, and that failure to do so will be documented and punished.

These kinds of "leaders" look at China’s surveillance state with lustful eyes, dream of being able to weild such power over their own serfs, and will use any means they deem necessary to make their dream a reality. They are truly sick individuals the world over.

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