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Jim Harper’s Identity Crisis

I know it makes me a small person to say this, but I’m surprised to find myself not only enjoying but agreeing with a book that comes out of the Cato Institute. Jim Harper’s Identity Crisis: How Identification Is Overused and Misunderstood makes a confusing topic—identity on and off the Net—understandable, and argues persuasively that our rush to enforce strict identity rules not only eats at our freedom, it doesn’t make us appreciably safer. Of course, I was inclined in that direction anyway, since I continue to think I believe that anonymity is and ought to remain the default. (Yes, the “think I believe” indicates some doubt.)

Jim’s book is nicely written, clear in its explanation and clear in its point of view. [Tags: ]

3 Responses to “Jim Harper’s Identity Crisis”

  1. Would you prefer complete anonymity, or a choice of multiple identities?

  2. We could simply require that all identities demonstrated their identifiability:

    0) Anonymous
    1) Arbitrarily named, anonymous
    2) Pseudonymous – used unknown times >1
    3) Pseudonymous identity – with reputation
    4) Corporeal identity – private
    5) Corporeal identity – public

    Probably even more shades than that.

    So, the issue is not whether anonymity should be permitted, but that it is clear to all as to how identifiable the speaker of speech actually is.

    The weight of speech often depends upon the speaker, e.g. allegations. The greater the reputation of the speaker, the greater their investment in the veracity of their words.

    Argument should survive even without reputation, though reputation often helps in promotion.

  3. Pseudonyms are often even better than complete anonymity. My concern is, however, that if we create secure, ubiquitous ID systems – creating an identity platform instead of a series of identity applications – neither pseudo- nor anonymity will be practical options; if you want to shop at Amazon, send email that people are willing to receive, or comment on your Congressperson’s site, you’re going to have to give up your right to remain anonymous (or pseudonymous).


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