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The Logical Case For Anonymity 
Written by Matt Wolfe, 10 December 2017
Over the last several weeks we have seen a wave of privacy advocates hit the internet forums and blogs to make a case for privacy and anonymity as net neutrality is in the mainstream media once again. 

There are those who, if they had it their way, privacy and anonymity would not only be illegal, but impossible to obtain. We’ve seen intelligence agencies performing dragnet style surveillance programs under the guise of fighting terrorism and child pornography and even those pesky pot smokers hoping to buy drugs on one of these online black markets. We’ve seen President Obama make statements about the governments NEED to have unfettered access to everyone's device in the interest of national security. We’ve seen politician after politician make the case against the right of the people to remain private and anonymous. 

The most common argument I’m sure we’ve all heard is, “If you are not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to hide.” Now it’s difficult for me to see any merit to this argument when most of the people saying this don’t actually believe it. If they did, they’d have no problem posting all their passwords and bank information on Twitter…but we don’t see that happening do we?

Some really clever rebuttals to this statement are, “If i’m not doing anything wrong then you have no reason to spy on me” or “The government defines what’s wrong and what’s not and they keep changing their mind” or my personal favorite, “Those bad actors may sell or use my information in a malicious way.” 

All accurate statements in opposition to the position held by State officials, but they still assume that privacy and anonymity are solely for the purpose of hiding or doing bad things we might not want exposed. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Privacy is not merely for those bad actors. It’s for really good actors too.
Many don’t know this but even the Founders of the united States of America knew the value of privacy and anonymity. In fact John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, John Jay, and others wrote philosophical and political columns in the local newspaper under pseudonyms. One notable piece of work, written under fake names, were the Federalist Papers. Where our Founding Fathers doing something “wrong” that they wanted to keep hidden? Or where they doing a public service for which their lives were at risk?  

Are you doing wrong when you pull the blinds closed at night in your home? Are you doing wrong when you make love to your spouse behind a closed door? What exactly are you hiding under those pants? 

These seem like silly questions, but they attack the very premise that privacy and anonymity is only valued by those who wish to hide a wrong. This is simply not true. We all value privacy. We all say things to our partner that we would never say to anyone else. We all have secrets we wouldn’t want the entire world to know. We all value a little alone time to sit and meditate and get lost in our own thoughts….is this not so? 

Privacy and anonymity is a basic fundamental human right. It is essential for an open and free society.
I don’t think I need to introduce Satoshi Nakamoto to anyone these days. This is the mysterious individual(s) that released the Bitcoin core code to the world in the height of the financial meltdown back in 2009. No one knows who this mystery person(s) is, outside of this online pseudonyme. Yet today, that same Bitcoin is worth over $15,000 USD per Bitcoin. If you haven’t seen the crypto craze lately then you’ve been under a rock!

But the creator of Bitcoin isn’t the only one who has used a pseudonym to protect their identity and safety. In the 19th century England, pseudonyms allowed women, like the Bronte sisters, to be taken seriously as writers.
Many professionals use pseudonyms online to keep their private personal life separate from their professional work life. Take Guardian columnist GrrlScientist, who discovered her Google+ account deactivated for violating their “common name” policy, as a perfect example. She explained in a post why some may desire anonymity saying:

“It might surprise the white men employed by Google to learn that people use pseudonyms for a variety of legitimate reasons -- reasons that may not be mutually exclusive. They may be trying to evade a stalker or harasser; they might wish to keep their social life separate from their professional life; they may be seeking help about a medical condition that they wish to keep private; they might be a political activist or dissident, or they may have lost a job because they write a blog, for example. Perhaps they've used a pseudonym throughout most of their lives and are not well known by their real life name; they might use a pseudonym to distinguish themselves from the other two dozen people sharing the same name and city; or maybe their real name is too long, unpronounceable for most English-speakers or doesn't use Latinised letters. Or maybe they just plain hate their real name. I am sure there are plenty of other non-criminal reasons for using a pseudonym that I've not mentioned here, but regardless of the reason(s), these are personal. These reasons are not the business of Google, nor of any large faceless corporate giant.”

Or perhaps the words of Hisham Khribchi, a Moroccan blogger, who stated:

“When I first started blogging I wanted my identity to remain secret because I didn’t want my online activity to interfere with my professional life. I wanted to keep both as separate as possible. I also wanted to use a fake name because I wrote about politics and I was critical of my own government. A pseudonym would shield me and my family from personal attacks. I wanted to have a comfortable space to express myself freely without having to worry about the police when I visit my family back in Morocco.”

I could go on and on citing famous people throughout history that have made a case for the need of anonymity and privacy. I could go on and show you example after example of legitimate, everyday people who REQUIRE anonymity and privacy because of the nature of the work that they do. Not all are journalist or political activists. Some as simple as a restaurant critic who writes reviews for top name restaurants might not want their name known for obvious objectivity reasons. If their identity is known, then it would be nearly impossible to get a truly unbiased experience of the dining establishment.

The need for privacy and anonymity is great and the use cases are many. The reality is, the majority of people who value anonymity and privacy aren’t bad actors. They wish to be shielded FROM bad actors….those bad actors often reside in positions of power. Either a boss, coworker, politicians or a greedy corporate executive wishing not to be exposed for their crimes.

Anonymity and privacy have become increasingly valuable in our digital age. Even our financial transactions are being monitored and scrutinized at every turn. Donate to the wrong political campaign, get audited by the IRS. Post some critical information about our government, find yourself on a no-fly list with your travel restricted.

In the realm of financial access, it’s nearly impossible to acquire a bank account without revealing your identity. Literally every single financial transaction is public. This inherently alters our behavior.

When a group of people live under constant survailance, it’s been shown, that our very behavior modifies. We must assume we are always being watched and that has the effect of self censorship which is arguably much cheaper and effective than State censorship policies. See, when privacy and anonymity are no longer the default, censorship becomes systemic. Censorship becomes the new default. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a world I want to live in.

I’m here to publicly declare that privacy and anonymity is a basic human right, without which, an open and free society cannot exist. When privacy and anonymity are not possible, then in effect, we also limit the economic choices available to us.

Who wants to live in a world where only government approved vendors can distribute goods and services? Who wants to live in a world where only sanctioned uses of your money are allowed. Who wants to live in a world where any and all information must pass through the gatekeepers before it makes it’s way to the people? I know I sure don’t and I’m sure most of you will align with my point of view.

But I’m curious to hear what you think. Is privacy and anonymity worth fight for? Leave me a comment to know what you think.
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About Author: Matt Wolfe

Founder of, privacy advocate, entrepreneur, arm-chair economist, stand-up philosopher, cryptography enthusiast, free thinking Cypherpunk.
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