Should tools that hide online identity be outlawed?

Prosecutors say tools that cloak online identities are complicating their efforts to police all kinds of crime,” writes NPR reporter Carrie Johnson.

Tor provides popular software that helps people hide their location and their viewing habits by bouncing messages all over the world. Supporters say it can be used for perfectly legitimate reasons: to protect the privacy of protesters and artists in repressive regimes, for example.

But it’s also drawn attention from people like Leslie Caldwell, who runs the criminal division at the Justice Department.

“A lot of what we thought of as traditional, unsophisticated criminals are now on the Internet selling drugs, selling guns, selling murder-for-hire schemes, selling child pornography,” she says.

And those criminals, Caldwell says, have gotten a lot smarter about covering their tracks. “Technology is trending toward even greater anonymization, which is something that is just going to make our job more difficult,” she adds.

Today’s Question: Should tools that hide online identity be outlawed?

  • Jermus

    Then only outlaws will enjoy privacy…

  • Gary F

    I wonder what Lois Lerner thinks of this?

  • PaulJ

    The internet should have the same security laws as the postal service.

  • Perfunctory Annonymity

    Imagine a world where every book you take down off the library shelf is permanently logged by police and made available to worldwide data bases in every community you might ever choose to live. Now, since the trend in data storage cost is growing geometrically cheaper imagine a world where copying such data bases to micro devices (like Snowden did) becomes trivial for covert transport and sale. Your prospective landlord might choose to pay handsomely to vet your reading before he accepts you, or your prospective boyfriend, employer or country club. Maybe your opponent in a local election might even get a hold of such data and attempt to mischaracterize who you are based upon your choices of reading material… And any PI worth their salt would know how to obtain information from such a data base as a part of services offered.

    Imagine a country, quite normally unadventurous that begins to see how efficiently they could manage the occupation of a wealthy country by obtaining a social map of nearly everyone who lives there. A map that details all their friends and professional contacts, a map that could be used to plot political views, SES, employment and finances, hobbies, as well as yet to be discovered predictive correlations. Sort of like how Target can analyze a bunch of purchases and determine that you’re pregnant even before you know this yourself… Who knew that you need to be watched because of some such correlation. Or who knew that some inner psychic weakness you or a family member has could easily be identified through Big Data and exploited by anyone with the information. Or that a whole population could be divided into sophisticated categories with Big Data, allowing an occupying force to budget their resources most effectively to dominate and pacify a nation? A whole nation mapped out for every potential trouble maker, lackey and collaborator before a shot is fired.

    Every article you ever read, every “friend” who befriended you on a social network site, every comment you ever made. Permanently logged and made available to whatever local satrap has been trusted to enforce the “Peace” such as it is… A force maybe like those amateur Homeland Security agents all across the USA who are given privileged access to collected data. Arbiters of these giant data bases stepping into your mind in the most intimate way bringing along with them their own neurotic foibles, and sometimes psychotic disturbances they can exercise on a defenseless public that’s been going naked before the world for years on the internet.

    Yeah, allow every street corner to photograph your every passing, your every phone call traced and logged, your every purchase logged and analyzed, your every book touched, your every online contact examined by AI robots programmed by teams under the control of people like Dick Cheney. Trust him you fools.

    Don’t think I like this world where old ladies cough up $500 to a Bitcoin ATM to get their computer files back from e-extortionists in Russia, I don’t. But I do not believe this gives a reason to exterminate anonymity on the internet or to make TOR illegal. TOR scares the hell out of these police potentates; it shouldn’t. The very powers they seek over the public is what really should scare them to death and us.

  • James

    Read “The Circle.” Do you like a world with web anonymity or a world with known identity? They both have their issues.

  • Rich in Duluth

    Somehow, we have to balance freedom with enforcing our laws. In the U.S., our Forth Amendment right to privacy in our papers and effects is more important than making it easier for law enforcement to catch criminals. The people should be able to use technology to maintain privacy and the government should be able to use technology to catch cyber criminals.

  • Yanotha Twangai

    Would somebody explain to me how such a prohibition would be accomplished? If people are using tools that hide online identity, how would law enforcement agencies find them?

  • davehoug

    Bork had his video viewing habits searched by reporters when he was up for Supreme Court judge. The tabloids would enjoy getting all the web pages a person (who may just be a victim) that have been viewed.

    Even cable TV or Google would put your web habits to use if nothing else but to sell you more.

  • davehoug

    Santa already knows if you have been naughty or good 🙂