Anonymity: The Web’s Double Edged Sword

atwdA COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO, 500 PEOPLE ON AN INTERNET mailing list received the digital equivalent of an obscene phone call. They opened their e-mail and out popped a series of digitized photographs of a woman having sex with a bull. Some of the recipients of these obscene images were children and teenagers. A brief note accompanying the images said, in effect, “Ha ha, you can’t catch me. I’m using an anonymous remailer.” But as a result of either the sender’s incompetence or a technical glitch, the note was accompanied by the sender’s e-mail address. It did not take long for the mailing list administrator to trace the address to a computer user near Oklahoma City. The young man is in big trouble and deserves every bit of it.

History does not recall the date of the first obscene phone call, but one can speculate that it occurred shortly after the automated switchboard replaced the local operator who knew the voice of everyone in town.

One can …