Anonymity on the Internet – Is it Guaranteed?

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In the case of anonymity on the internet it is best to expect none. Many of us have all probably at some point expressed ourselves a little too vocally on a blog, forum or web on some topic or other. Whether it be on the merits of a film, a product or even a football team – the interent is made up of opinions, millions of them. The problem is that these opinions when voiced don’t disappear when they’re posted online and sometimes people are not too keen on this.

There is currently an interesting court case running in North Carolina which illustrates the problem of the current situation. Most countries have laws on libel or slander but not many of them are really ‘internet ready’. The case in Carolina, refers to some comments made on a community forum called Home in Hendersons by several individuals using pseudonyms like ‘fatboy’ and ‘Confused’. The thread in question refers to a the appalling state of some rented flats, the comments were directed at the owner of the flats, a Mr Thomas S Hester Jr and were needless to say less than flattering.

The comments were made presumably in good faith but also with the perceived anonymity of their usernames. Mr Hester has however taken action to force the owner of the website to release the identities behind the monikers. Jason A. Feingold the owner of HomeinHendersons.com has been served with a subpoena to release their identities which he is fighting against. The website has set up a legal fund appeal to help raise funds and seems intent on trying to protect the identities of their users.

Jim Rjindael a writer from a popular anonymous surfing blog made this comment –

“The internet is dependent on free speech and expression, without opinions and discussion it simply wouldn’t exist as we know it. The problem is people believe that when they do anything online they do so anonymously which is simply not the case. People should be aware of their lack of privacy and that it is perfectly possible that anything they do or say online can have implications in the real world”

The case in North Carolina has not been decided yet, but it has implications for many online communities such as the Home in Hendersons website as well as many thousands of online communities all across the internet. It also may have technical implications because currently anybody who does not hide their IP address in some manner will not be quite as anonymous as they would like.