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Microsoft's chief research officer wants web licenses to end bloggers' anonymity (telegraph.co.uk)
54 points by miked on Feb 12, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments

I'm just curious: was I the only one annoyed by the author's tone and style? I agree with the sentiment behind the article, but the tone makes it come across as extremely partisan. I like reading news without someone shoving their opinion down my throat, even if I agree with said opinion.

The Telegraph is sometimes colloquially known as the Torygraph. It is indeed decidedly opinionated, in both the opinion it publishes, and the news stories it chooses to cover and the space it gives over to them. It's particularly anti-EU, for example.

But then, news publications have to use some algorithm for story placement, so there's always some kind of bias. A po-faced "objective" newspaper that pretends to no bias at all can be the most insidious.

No, you are not the only one annoyed by the author's tone and style. I find it very tiresome. I also didn't care for his attempt to use a column about internet censorship as a platform for propagandizing about global warming, nor his apparent belief that he and others like him would be the likely targets of censorship (thus limiting his freedom of speech to, er, having a column in a major national newspaper, OH NOES) when historically the people picked on in this way have generally been of quite a different political persuasion.

The ability to filter out bias in an opinionated piece is very valuable. With practice your brain does it by itself and you hardly notice.

Which, apparently, cannot be said for the ability to refrain from lashing out with a snarky comment. I specifically said that I agree with the author's opinion and that I was asking out of curiosity whether there were other people who shared my dislike of his tone. Just because you're capable of reaching your destination through a traffic jam, doesn't mean you have to like it.

Partly answering your question, I neither like nor dislike the style. I have learned to ignore it. I perceive no slowdown in parsing an opinionated piece when compared to purely factual reporting. I notice a lower interesting information density, as part of the content is being used by the opinions of the author and are thus discarded and I would prefer a more concise report.

And I never intended to be snarky.

There's nothing wrong with being partisan. In fact, it's wrong to be non-partisan about important issues like freedom. If you're non-partisan about free speech, what are you partisan about? What freedoms would you have to lose to become partisan?

What's there to disagree with? It's one big glittering generality and I wouldn't be at all surprised that the author is grievously misrepresenting the positions of his opponents.

Is anonymity required for free speech?

I ask this in order to start an honest discussion. Reading the comments, there seems to be an immediate, and in my opinion unwarranted, jump from authentication of identity directly to censorship. Cutting through the article's FUD bullshit, censorship is not what Mundie is proposing. He's proposing a connection between internet presence and identity, as a means of combating cybercrime.

While his proposal conceivably enables censorship activities, I am wary of slippery-slope arguments in general, and in this case the proposal has nothing to do with the legality of censorship in whatever jurisdiction it's present it. In areas where censorship is more common than the US it might make it easier. But, in the US at least, I personally don't see lack of anonymity as necessarily being the first step on an irresistible march towards a soviet dictatorship.

I'm rather on the fence about the specific issue of anonymity being a principle aspect of freedom of speech.

No, but you're asking the wrong question. The right question WRT to free speech is whether there is any free speech which requires anonymity -- and the answer to that is obviously yes. Martyrdom should not be required to speak against those in power.

But, even that is beside the point. An internet id implies authentication to use the internet. Identification is a _secondary_ purpose of a driver's license -- the primary purpose is to control who can and cannot operate a motor vehicle. That's the problem. Not anonymity,

If you can't be authenticated, you can't speak on the internet -- that is precisely what he's proposing (you can consume but not contribute). It's very small step from that to controlling speech. And it's not even about anonymity -- If you can't get on, no one is going to hear you complain. And guess who holds the keys?

And furthermore, cert authorities for the things that need them already exist. So, he is obviously pushing censorship, whether he's too stupid to realize it (it's a microsoft talking head, after all) or not.

You have a valid point that there are instances of free speech that do effectively require anonymity.

The point of an actual driver's license is first to certify, and second to identify. However, if you give Mundie the benefit of the doubt, he was just using the wrong metaphor and didn't mean that some people wouldn't get the keys to the castle. Would an "internet license" that demonstrates your identity but has no entrance requirements and no way of being denied or revoked be as directly correlated with censorship?

The conditions you laid out are hypothetical. Yes, if we ignore the anonymity requirement for all free speech, and it was strictly identity only with no other requirements, it would less directly associated with censorship. But this hypothetical is begging the question... If everything were sweetness and light, we wouldn't have problems with a stricter license for access proposal either because there would be no fear of retribution, and no one would have a reason to speak out. But there is, and they do...

So practically, even your proposal is broken. There is a requirement. You must identify yourself. So how do you do that? Well, you have to supply the proper "papers" -- and what authority will guarantee those? Oops, you've just handed the keys over again...

And the best part? It does nothing to stop criminals, who would have no problem breaking the law again, to just fake the papers and get an id to use a conduit for... whatever. It just institutes another level of control, another mental and practical barrier, to cross for normal people who wish to speak their mind.

You don't need anonymity to speak freely. You might need anonymity to protect yourself from loss of freedom, property, or life.

For example, in the 1770s some people wrote pamphlets criticizing a man named George, publishing them under pseudonyms to protect their lives. Others signed a declaration of independence with their given names, risking death. To each his own.

Such risks may not be an imminent danger where you live right now. Nevertheless, Craig Mundie's proposal will make it far easier for armed men to track down people who disagree with them. That is, of course, the whole point of the proposal.

> Is anonymity required for free speech?

Yes. This is why for example voting is anonymous in the US, so your employer or local corrupt official or whoever can't force you to vote a certain way.

> censorship is not what Mundie is proposing. He's proposing a connection between internet presence and identity, as a means of combating cybercrime.

Online there's not much difference between "doing" and "saying", and some kinds of online crime are about "saying" (ie, things like kiddie porn).

> While his proposal conceivably enables censorship activities

The only way it can possibly work is by enabling censorship (not proactive censorship, but reprisals for saying the wrong things).

> I personally don't see lack of anonymity as necessarily being the first step on an irresistible march towards a soviet dictatorship.

That's quite a jump, from censorship to dictatorship.

What permits bad rulers is that the people who know either don't care or don't matter. Censorship acts to reduce the number of people who know. Proper institutions can make it easier to reach individuals who both matter and care. If a large enough number of people know and care strongly enough, then together they can matter.

If there's a culture of removing bad rulers immediately, the ability to censor probably isn't a big deal. If there isn't, censorship can make it significantly harder (but not impossible) to remove the bad rulers once they've had time to get entrenched.

Here's an interesting case of an HN headline being less editorial and linkbaity than the original. Well done, sir!

The analogy with a driver's license is completely inane. What's the worst that can happen if you go about blogging the wrong way? Some people get upset, maybe sue for defamation or something? Big deal!

Go about driving the wrong way and people can get hurt or killed; that's the motivation behind requiring a driving license. There is no comparable public-safety issue behind requiring a license for operating a computer, nor is there any need to regulate access to a scare shared resource (e.g. radio frequencies). There is just no compelling reason to bother, apart from the creepy, coercive ones.

Good luck with the first amendment in the US. Not to mention getting 200 or so other countries to enforce it. The WTO or WIPO might like to help out, but it's not going to happen with the US a non-starter.

A piece of advice: never take your freedoms for granted.

I have lived most of my childhood under a right-wing military dictatorship. The "it will never happen here" concept is a very dangerous one.

Agreed. I wasn't taking anything for granted, though - it was an analytical observation. I don't live in the US.

Where did you spend your childhood? (just curious)


It feels like I'm seeing more calls for this crap lately, from in power / high status type people. That worries me somewhat. What's driving this? Are they afraid of loss of control, or does it just seem like an "easier" fix than things that might actually work (like user education and proper type safety)?

And who says Microsoft doesn't innovate anymore?

Since when being on the wrong side is something new for them?

Cold chance in hell this will pass in the U.S.

I'd actually like to see it formally proposed in some fashion, just to see which congressmen would advocate it... and then observe them promptly voted home the following election season.

Please read the comment above http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1121024

edit: or somewhere else on this page.

Would you have believed in 1999 that Patriot Act, etc. would come to pass in the U.S.?

I'm sure they'll roll out the analog to the underwear bomber in time (long before hell freezes over).

Ahh, yes. A case of Microsoft misunderstanding human behavior and technical possibility. There will be no drivers licenses, as there will be no web police, as there will be no hegemonic Microsoft. It's a good day when you can file an article like this under comedy.

This deserves an Internet Death Penalty I think.

What is the internet death penalty?

Hacking by anonymous? Heckling on 4chan?

Dropping of all packets by major routers.


I think that Mundie's trial balloon has more to do with this part of his statement: the car has to pass a test to say it is fit to drive and you have to have insurance.

I will go out on a limb here and propose that the "Internet Driver's License" has more to do with gently guiding governments into requiring Windows, or at least non-free-software operating systems than it has to do with establishing identity, abolishing anonymity or any of the "Four Horsement of the Internet Apocalypse".

I will go further down the limb by saying that the minimum safety requirement would be not to run Windows, but then I would be voted down into non-existence...

Oops... I just said it. Burn, karma, burn!

OK, that's great. I want a pony. I'm not going to get it, though, so it's not really even worth talking about.

You can't censor the Internet. You can make posting to the Internet anonymously illegal, but you can't enforce that. You could make crypto illegal, but you can't enforce that either (steganography). Saying that you want to end blog anonymity is like saying you want to end water flowing downhill. You can say it all you want, but it ain't gonna happen.

Why do they even propose this? Do they have any arguments in their favor? We should never let this kind of thing happen to the internet.

"Why do they even propose this? "

Propose what, exactly? The article does not give any direct quotes, so all we have is the paraphrasing of a writer with an agenda.

A better report of what Craig Mundie proposed is at http://curiouscapitalist.blogs.time.com/2010/01/30/drivers-l... .

Disclaimer- I work for MSFT but I really no nothing more than what is in these articles

"That's what enables a massive amount of cyber crime: if you're attacked from a computer, you might be able to figure out where that particular machine is located, but there's really no way to go back one step further and track the identity of the computer that hacked into the one that hacked into you."

"What Mundie is proposing is to impose authentication."

Who is authenticating to whom, and how long is this recorded for (and by who)? If someone posts a virus on a random discussion forum somewhere, and I download it a month later and start sending spam and posting new copies after another week, will this be sufficient to track whoever posted the very first copy? If it is, what will prevent it from having an incredible chilling effect on free speech?

Well, all this really shows is just how out of touch Microsoft is. They never really grokked the web anyway.

On the one hand, that's bullshit... then on the other hand, I'm thinking of all of the YouTube commenters that I'd like to see disappear, even in the repressive Soviet usage of the word. I don't suppose it would be used to weed out simpering idiots though...

For there to be freedom of speech we can't be deciding who has the right to speak. We can only hope to keep the idiots penned up in places like youtube so they don't come to places we value.

Why the anger? Are they making you watch their videos?

Their existence abrades me.

I know the feeling but I recommend letting it go. I've seen some vile comments there, but most get down-voted into oblivion.

pretty standard telegraph fare, the only reason to read this is to find out how they manage to link the story to paedophiles

The "internet license" proposal is likely hyperbolic rhetoric being used to underscore a more moderate point that MS wants to make.

Still, it's becoming commonplace to hear these kind of draconian, totalitarian proposals, from all ends of the political spectrum, and it's not inconceivable that at some point, one of these proposals will end up enacted in law.

Perhaps we will eventually need to construe this kind of rhetoric as an overt statement of intent to undermine the constitution, and reinstate prosecutions for seditious libel.

> " . . .reinstate prosecutions for seditious libel."

A censor's wet dream, that.

The conspiracy theorist part of me suggests that the reason for this proposal has something to do with the MiniMSFT blog.

Yet another point in support of my new adage, " Live in the Cloud, die by the cloud."

Got Buzzed? Got Blogger DMCA'd? Tired of having targeted ads in your email, tired of worrying about data retention policies?

Then I encourage you to spend a low, low 100 bucks a year on your own hosting and domain, with email and all the website a humble blogger can eat.

Microsoft will make a fine DMV.

They certainly have the software and bureaucracy for it.

I am confused. Wouldn't driving a Windows box immediately qualify as reckless driving?

It's so Microsoft to be always on the wrong side...

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