A bad idea that continues to persist is a favorite of many government officials. The problem with the internet is anonymity, according to them. Wouldn't we all be better off if we were forced to identify ourselves before using social media platforms? The theory is people won't say mean, stupid, or regrettable things if their posts and comments are linked to their real names. Several years of Facebook-only commenting systems has proven this wrong.
And yet the idea continues to be pushed by European politicians and DHS officials. The latest to call for an internet drivers license is UK security minister Ben Wallace. His theory is the use of real names and verifiable info will inflict mass civility on the internet, which is currently home to roving bands of ruffians and Wild West content. [Paywall ahead.] [Alternate link to article provided by Alec Muffet, who has helpfully taken a screenshot of the print edition.]
Ben Wallace, a former soldier, said bullying and grooming occurred on social media because offenders believed they cannot be identified. “It is mob rule on the internet. You shouldn’t be able to hide behind anonymity as much as you can now,” he added.
Of course, it will all be so easy to implement in Wallace's limited view. After all, banks authenticate users' identities, so it stands to reason people will be happy to turn over names, addresses, phone numbers, and whatever else might be demanded in exchange for the heightened possibility of being doxed, sued, or exposed to overbroad prosecutorial efforts.
Wallace says there's a damn good reason to demand ID from everyone on the internet: the children.
The former soldier described being part of an uncover investigation into child sex exploitation where they found a children’s chatroom with a 45-year-old man pretending to be a 12-year-old.
He said: “It was like blood in the water with a shark – he was trying to chat up a girl to get her to come and meet him.
Whoa, if true. In the US, cops do this all the time. I'm sure UK cops do it as well, so this may have been nothing more than a couple of cops chatting to each other for all anyone knows. Even if this went down exactly the way Wallace portrays it, the institution of an internet ID card isn't going to magically make it impossible for 45-year-olds to pretend they're 12. It won't even make a dent.
What it will do is harm the internet and its users. The only services that will be able to comply will be the largest. Forums and discussion groups, hosted on free platforms and maintained by members, won't be able to cover the cost or provide the manpower. If anyone's concerned about the dominance of the major social media platforms, regulation like this isn't the answer. It will only further cement their dominance.
And there are plenty of legitimate reasons to maintain online anonymity. In the eyes of officials like Wallace, anonymity is an admission of guilt. "Nothing to hide, nothing to fear," except for people like undercover journalists, journalists' sources, dissidents, opponents of authoritarian governments, people who don't like being pre-doxed by their service provider, security researchers, government employees, people who don't like being blackmailed, critics of powerful people or corporations, kids who want to keep sexual predators from knowing they're kids… the list goes on and on.
To add injurious action to an insulting idea, Wallace has another boneheaded idea: intermediary liability for national security threats.
Mr Wallace called on social media giants to take responsibility for their own technology, as he said the UK was spending hundreds of millions of pounds on coping with the challenges of end-to-end encryption, which makes it harder for the security services to foil terror plots.
He said: “There should be an element of the ‘polluter pays’. You contribute to the cost your technology is engendering.”
What even the fuck. This is more than stupid. It's dangerous. It does very little to combat terrorism and gives the government (and lawsuit plaintiffs) a chance to grab some money from the biggest, easiest-to-locate target, rather than the actual criminals engaging in terrorist acts. This is lazy legislating and it's a cheap comparison. Terrorists may use encrypted communication services, but it hardly follows that terrorism is the result of companies offering encrypted messaging. Pollution, on the other hand, can be traced back to its source and the manufacture of products. There's a direct link from manufacturing to the production of pollutants. Offering an encrypted messaging service does not create terrorists or terrorist activity.
Fortunately for Wallace, he's floating these terrible ideas in the UK's legislative cesspool, unhampered by the First Amendment or rational national security legislation. This means UK residents, and the companies that serve them, may be eventually forced to fork over their personal info to access Facebook, much like they're expected to do if they want to access porn.