"Everything You Say Can And Will Be Used Against You, By Anybody, Now Or Decades Into The Future."

Arrest

There are politicians trying to eliminate anonymity on the net. That’s a very, very dangerous game to play. Beside the fact that it will always be easily circumvented when people know they need to be anonymous, the danger lies in when people don’t think of that need.

Every day, we say things that we wouldn’t say in other contexts. We react to news with WTF-type blurts, we react to stupid politicians and greedy bankers with emotional statements.

These statements are all-too-frequently social glue rather than intended to be taken at face value. More importantly, they are transient — they disappear as soon as they are spoken or heard. Would you really be comfortable if everything, everything, you said was recorded, permanently archived, and made searchable?

That’s where these politicians would have us.

It’s the equivalent of a police arrest in the United States, where you are told — very seriously — that “Everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law“. What happens? Well, most people take the hint and shut up completely.

Now, imagine if it wasn’t just a court of law as in the arrest scenario, but that anybody that could see anything you had ever said. Future employers, dates, law enforcement… not just in your own country or state, but also for every place you’ll ever visit in the future with different laws. Also, imagine that this holds true for the rest of your life, with the laws undergoing change in the next 60 years or whatever number of years you have left, and imagine what you say today is going to be repainted in the light of 60 years from now. (There was nothing said in 1941 which was common knowledge and social glue then, but which would be terribly embarrassing and a complete block-out if found today, was there?)

It would become practically impossible to say… anything remotely challenging. At least if you wanted a future. You may still talk about the weather.

True, there are some limits to who can see what you say today. There is a “share with friends” limit. But it is getting recorded, all of it, and it has your name to it. Down the line, this may become public. Or it may not. Maybe it only becomes available to future employers. The thing is, there is no way to know.

There is no shortage of people who, for instance, react to news of greedy bankers with a blurt-out along the lines of “Bonus!? The only thing this guy deserves is a bullet between the eyes“. This is social glue, and not a literal death threat. So imagine if all of those statements resulted in arrests a few hours later, or was held against the person saying it in the next job interview. That’s where we’re heading if we’re crippling anonymity.

The only way to protect ourselves and free speech is to safeguard the anonymity we enjoy today in the streets when we say something, and the fact that that statement disappears as soon as it is said. As speech moves online, that anonymity must remain, when the transiency doesn’t and everything we say becomes part of a permanent record.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot.

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Discussion

  1. Falkvinge on Infopolicy: “Everything You Say Can And Will Be Used Against You, By Anybody, Now Or Decades … http://tinyurl.com/447peeh

  2. steelneck

    You are on to something really important, but it needs to be rephrased and, sort of, purified into a clean argument that preemts some misunderstandings. I think those misunderstandings between public, private and anononymity will show allready in the comments to this blogpost.

  3. Rickard Olsson

    I wrote a bit about the conflict between public and private information in Swedish WBW: http://www.webhackande.se/privat_kontra_publikt

  4. Jixtreme

    This is especially troubling since my one of my most favorite hobbies is trolling people on the internet.

  5. Jean-Marc Liotier

    Intimidating us into self-censorship is the actual goal – self-censorship is much more efficient than censorship. Don’t let that happen – proudly stand by your faults and past mistakes !

  6. booyah

    On one hand, these politicians are fighting to kill online anonymity.

    On the other hand, the want “the right to be forgotten” as a matter of privacy.

    Basically, anything you do online has your name on it, but then you can request with force of law that the stupid things you said are permanently censored.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      The invented “right to be forgotten” is indeed a matter of privacy, but one of one’s own memory. Nobody has the right to go in and erase it.

      There is no such thing as a right to be forgotten, as it requires tampering with the memory of other human beings. The notion is horrifying.

      1. booyah

        Absolutely agreed.

        I’m merely pointing out that *they themselves* are creating the problem by abolishing online anonymity and then they present their asinine “right to be forgotten” as the cure.

        It’s doubly horrifying, and I really have to ask myself whether they’re nefariously devious or mind-numbingly stupid.

        1. Rick Falkvinge

          Ah, so we’re completely on the same side.

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts and concerns. Couldn’t agree more.

  7. Ninja (@icanhazsake)

    It can backlash against the supporters of greater censorship. Their data will be there too. It can be used against these same politicians that are supporting today.

  8. Lennart Lindgård

    In Sweden, there is a law that you have to have permission to store personal data about people in digital form. There should be like that, You should need a special permission to store anything personal (comments and so on) for a longer period than a few weeks.

  9. RT @piratbloggar: Falkvinge on Infopolicy: “Everything You Say Can And Will Be Used Against You, By Anybody, Now Or Decades … http://tinyurl.com/447peeh

  10. Elias.L

    We are all fucked, no seriously im NOT even joking.

  11.  

    You state the “there are politicians trying to eliminate anonymity on the net” though I don’t see where that is? I’m aware that it’s being brought up in reports on evading censorship and so on, and I’m certain its curtailment is being tabled as a possibility, but I don’t see anonymity being actively engaged against yet.

    Some current examples of where they’re trying to eliminate anonymity?

    1. Miso Susanowa

      Maybe you are not aware of the huge current controversy over the Google+ and Facebook demands for “wallet names,” the high-profile cases of selling your data to third parties without even checking if they are legitimate, the pushing of such requirements for track-across-the-nets purposes with the lame “reason” that “it’s purely for marketing purposes” or that this is the third such push in the last 15 years, the previous being the REAL ID legislation that was rejected by all 50 states.

      Or perhaps you cannot imagine how many diverse threads weave together into a fabric (and no, not tin-foil; simple similarity/congruency comparisons).

      1.  

        Most of those have nothing to do with politicians, government or law.

        REAL ID is the only government-led issue you mention, but then that – as far as I’m aware – had nothing to do with “trying to eliminate anonymity on the net” at all. Then you say it was completely rejected anyway?

        So I will ask again: Where are there current examples of politicians trying to eliminate anonymity? Maybe there are examples I’m not aware of, maybe there are not, but without any substantiating evidence either way am I to just believe that it is true because Rick says so?

        Is this part of the “social glue” game where someone asserts something, and irrational, unthinking, emotionally-driven peons knee-jerk react accordingly?

        1. Rick Falkvinge

          Dear [empty name],

          this is the story that prompted me to write the article. The ongoing nymwars were an additional catalyst.

          The German Interior Minister is calling for an end to anonymity:

          http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,15301860,00.html

          He is not the first, and will not be the last.

          Cheers,
          Rick

  12. Annoula64 (Ann Markström)

    RT @piratbloggar: Falkvinge on Infopolicy: “Everything You Say Can And Will Be Used Against You, By Anybody, Now Or Decades … http://tinyurl.com/447peeh

  13. Irony

    Yet, the irony is you require a name and email to comment on the article about the importance of being able to say things anonymously

  14. Mike

    It doesn’t help when you go to make a comment, it always says name (required)….then it says to put your email addy down with the cute little promise in parentheses that says (will not be published)….does anybody really believe that? So, I’m commenting on a blog about anonymity, of all things , but in order to comment I have to give a name? Hmmmm, yeah…do I sound convinced? Not only am I not convinced, I aint fooled either……and my name isn’t Mike, either.

    1. Tom

      Hi “Mike”,

      Your real word “name” that your parents committed to paper, that is used by friends, family and government paper pushers alike isn’t really your “name” (the way you are identified and cataloged) on the net.

      Your i.p.#, plus the collection of profiling data, are how you are identified on the net, and unless:

      1) you used i.p. address scrambling technology to come to this webpage

      2) you gave yourself a unique personna that can’t be captured by data mining software

      the webmaster of this site has your “name” and “address”

  15. Don Cordell

    I’ve never said anything I was embarressed about, I’m very opinionated, and believe in getting my message out to society, because I always believe I’m right. Some may disagree with that, but that makes interesting conversation. I’ve never declared any violence in society, but believe we have to cancel some laws passed by the traitors we’ve elected to run our nation. Click on my name and see the task I’ve assigned mysellf to reach in 2012. I will take on some of the problems of laws that have cancelled our Bill of Rights, but we must do this in the Ballot box.

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