Latest Battle Line in the Cyber Wars – Loss of Anonymity in China
In an example of pure hypocrisy, China announced last week that anonymity on social networks in China was prohibited, leaving millions of users the Hobson’s Choice of either letting everyone know who they are whenever they post or remaining silent. As reported in the Vancouver Sun, “Anyone wishing to post on one of China’s networks, including the enormously popular Sina Weibo, must now register with their real names, allowing the government to find them easily if they write anything contentious. By yesterday afternoon, only 19 million of the 250 million” had registered
In effect, China’s move did more to suppress free speech than anything it’s done so far. The regime is known for brutal suppression of open discourse and dissent. This is simply an example of yet another effort to thwart the conversations seeking freedom within a totalitarian and repressive government.
Whatever happens next is important to watch.
First, will China’s move work? Will users and networks figure out a way around it or a way to mask names? Will identifiable information send authorities on wild goose chases? Will Chinese Netizens find avenues to bounce off of networks outside China and bore their way in?
Second, will other countries intent on stifling expression follow suit? Without question, this move will unite the tech community as such things do whenever their independence is challenged. Will hackers attack?
So yet another battle line has been drawn in the growing fronts of the cyber wars. And have no doubt about it. That is precisely what is happening – a war in cyberspace. But unlike terrestrial wars of the present and the past, the combatants are far more confused and disassociated from one another. On one side of the battle lines are those fighting for what most would believe are legitimate goals – freedom of expression and thought; freedom from repression and genocide; freedom of governance. Yet others arguably on the same side of the line are terrorists intent on wreaking havoc on vital institutions that keep us all safe or individual privacy we all have a right to enjoy.
On the other side are governments that are even more confused. The primary weapon democratic governments use is ineffective regulation or occasional lawsuits. Certainly, private causes of action and class actions have not improved any of the risks we all face every day on the Internet. Rife with issues surrounded by conflicts of interests, ICANN, the non-profit corporation entrusted with operation of the domain naming system and its safety has equally failed in its governance. At the same time, totalitarian regimes are living in the fantasy believing they can, long term, suppress their people with gunfire and tanks. That will certainly slow their populations down, but over time it will fail. That may have worked in the past when communications between people could be effectively shut down. But that is not so easy today, if not impossible. So those governments react with extreme measures and murder innocent citizens by the thousands. The world’s citizens – the We – will not stand by long and watch such genocide.
So who will clean all of this up or will the Net simply continue to slide down into chaos. Can the collective community that respects rights and freedoms suppress those who are intent on suppressing it? Will law enforcement ever find a way to be effective? No doubt very smart people at Interpol and the FBI are trying, but it was only by the mistake of Hector Xavier Monsegur, a/k/a Sabu, that the legendary hacker was caught.
Too many questions, too little leadership.
Doug Wood, We Expert