China is going through a crack down on social media and is apparently now requiring verified real identities online. This is very clearly an attempt to silence criticism and suppress unrest by making it easy to track down who said what online. I am strongly in support of pseudonyms which is one of several reasons why I prefer Twitter to Facebook. It is also why recently proposed bills to outlaw online impersonation are potentially problematic.
But what about going the opposite direction? What about building out crypto based systems that let individuals separate themselves entirely from their speech to provide real anonymity? On one hand I am sympathetic to the need for such systems in dictatorships. But I continue to worry that broader use and dissemination of crypto as in say Silent Circle and Bitcoin will lead us down a path towards a spy-vs-spy society everywhere.
If we want governments to be more transparent shouldn’t we be living that change already? If we embrace crypto everywhere we are just providing ammunition to those who say that government agencies need more powers and money and less supervision in snooping on us.
So what is the balance that I have in mind? An open society where you can create a pseudonymous online account (Twitter and elsewhere) and have the expectation that your service provide will not provide data to the government or others that can be used to reveal your true identity without proper checks and balances. It should require presenting evidence to an independent court that access to this data is needed. That’s why we badly need an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and why the renewal of FISA without supervision is such a disappointment.