Anyone can now acquire
a bulletproof, anonymous
online identity. By Publius
In May of this year, a judge ordered Facebook to turn over the identity of
someone who created a fake profile of a high school official. Other school
officials have sued over fake MySpace profiles. Not all judges take free speech
rights seriously; even fewer high school and university administrators do.
Setting up an anonymous blog or website is the obvious way to protect yourself from being punished for speaking out, but is this legitimate? And if so,
how can you accomplish it?
Anonymous speech has a long and distinguished
history. It was part of the political debate leading to
the rift with Great Britain; revolutionaries relied on it
to conceal their identities from the Crown.
The tradition continued with the Federalist
Papers, which presented arguments for ratifying the
U.S. Constitution. They were published in the 1780s
under pseudonyms including “Publius.” The authors
of the Anti-Federalist Papers, who predicted that the
Constitution would lead to a tyrannical central government, used aliases including “Federal Farmer.”
Internet anonymity is something of a high-wire
tightrope act: one tiny technological misstep, and
you’re doomed. Fortunately, technologies for anonymous website publishing are both secure and,
finally, easy to use.
You can create an anonymous or pseudonymous
persona that’s proof against not just random busybodies, but attorneys armed with subpoenas too.
(You should be familiar with relevant state and
federal laws, of course, and do nothing illegal.)
98 Make: Volume 15
Today, online anonymity works by cloaking your
computer’s Internet Protocol (IP) address, which
can be traced back to you in some circumstances.
One way to cloak your IP address is to use someone
else’s, such as a local coffee shop, corporation, or
neighborhood home with an open wi-fi connection.
But that’s not terribly convenient, and a business
may not be delighted to find out what you’re doing
(even if an open access point was their mistake).
A better solution is free software named Tor that
lets you connect to a sophisticated network of
anonymizing servers, meaning your IP address will
appear to be the address of a Tor server, not your
own. Messages are encrypted and forwarded randomly through the Tor network before they reach
At the cost of some speed, this arrangement
provides pretty good privacy protection — there
are no absolute guarantees — against attempts
to unearth the identity of who’s behind an email
address or website.
Illustration by Julian Honoré/ p4rse.com