Tor breach shows there's no such thing as Internet anonymity
A whole bunch of Internet crooks were rounded up last week
in an operation that literally spanned the globe. Wired's Andy Greenberg
catalogs the arrestees in a November
7, 2014, article. Some people are speculating that the FBI and other
law-enforcement agencies took advantage of a hole in the Tor anonymizing
service. Forbes' Kashmir Hill connects some of the dots in another November
7, 2014, article.
The folks behind the Tor service acknowledged in a July
30, 2014, post that they detected an attempt to de-anonymize some users. It's
anybody's guess whether law enforcement's take-down of Silk Road 2.0 and other
illegal operations was the result of some hole in Tor's security. What's
certain is that there is no such thing as Internet anonymity. Nothing that
exists on the Internet is truly private, although some things can be made more
private than others.
Anonymity is a
Early next year, the Virginia Supreme Court is expected to
rule on whether the Yelp customer-review site has to reveal the identities of
seven people who wrote negative reviews of a carpet-cleaning service, which is
suing the seven for defamation. JD Supra's Malorie Alverson describes the case
in a November
5, 2014, article.
The carpet-cleaning service claims the reviewers were not
customers. Yelp refuses to disclose their identities and invokes their First
Amendment right to free speech. Is "free speech" synonymous with
"anonymous speech"? The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is -- at
least to an extent. (McIntyre v. Ohio Elections
Comm'n, 514 U.S. 334, 1995) Thomas Paine and other American
Revolutionaries relied on anonymity in their inciteful and insightful
You can operate pretty darned anonymously with some effort.
Wired's Greenberg describes several anonymizing products and services in a June 17, 2014, article.
But you can never be absolutely, positively sure nobody can tie your Internet
activities to you personally, as ProPublica's Julie Angwin explains in a February
24, 2014, article.
So we can still be anonymous -- just not on the Internet? Or
while carrying a mobile phone? Or anywhere under video surveillance,
considering the growing use of facial-recognition software? Or anywhere we
drive, considering license-plate readers, GPS devices, and other vehicle data
collectors? If a stranger with the right resources chose to make the effort,
they could find out more about us than we know about ourselves.
We might be better off hiding in plain sight. Create a false
persona to throw the trackers off track. Throw up some white noise as a kind of
online veil. But even that sounds like a lot of work. Personally, I choose to
discourage trackers by leading an incredibly boring life. (Well, boring for
anyone else -- for me, it's perfect!)