Politics Technology

Who Goes There?


A UK court has set an interesting – possibly insane – condition of bail for four men on charges relating to the Anonymous and LulzSec hacktivist clubs. The judge has ordered them not to log on to anything using their ‘hacker’ usernames. What this will prevent exactly is not clear. But then I suppose the judge isn’t too clear about a lot here.

Several questions arise: If someone logs on using those identities, will the court have to prove that it was the suspects? It seems unlikely that they possibly could. Anyone who had the password could go online in the forums or services that the suspects used, and anyone on the planet could register the same names on other forums.

If the suspects have to show that it’s not them on the other hand it would be not only just as difficult, but also counter to natural justice as they would be required to prove their own innocence.

It seems virtually unimaginable that, if these people actually are deadly dangerous hacker types, not using a particular name will prevent them doing anything. If on the other hand they are innocent – which is the basis we are meant to be working on – it could be an enormous inconvenience. I mentioned the other day that I administer an Internet forum. I think I’ll be giving away no secrets if I say that my login for that isn’t “richardchapman”. I use – God forgive me, but it’s true – a name I made up. And the same goes of course for the login I use to write this blog.

The judge may be under the same misapprehension a lot of non technically literate society has: that going online by a name different to the one on your birth cert is the behaviour of deviants. In fact previous to Facebook it was the norm rather than the exception. Why would you allow online strangers to know your real name? The expectation of going by your birth name is part of what I’m tempted to call the “Facebookisation” of the Web. Commerce and government have both realised that the erasure of online anonymity would be very convenient, and they are beginning to cooperate to bring this about. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the Google Plus (Google+) social network even has rules against pseudonyms. It’s more than a little creepy.

But here’s an amusing wrinkle. Peter Gibson, one of the accused in this case, goes by the nerdy hacker username of “Peter”. So now he is not allowed to use his own name. That seems an extraordinary incursion on civil liberties – and will lead to an interesting situation if he tries to join Google+… Or if that’s not irony enough, listen to this: We have only been told three of the four suspects’ usernames. The fourth wasn’t revealed, apparently because he is seventeen. So yes, the username he used to protect his anonymity, something which he is no longer allowed by the court to do, is being kept from us by the court to protect his anonymity.

Something just blew in my brain.

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