Wow, is this a bad idea

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11/10/2008
This is a little bit outside my normal focus on physical security, but I wanted to post something about this just to show you the kind of crazy ideas that are being proposed in the name of "safety." On the newswire today, a professor from Millersville University (where's that?) posted a press release calling for a "Universal ID" on the Internet, similar to a universal driver's license. Millersville University of Pennsylvania computer science professor Dr. Nazli Hardy says it is no longer okay to be anonymous on the Internet. She is calling for a Universal Personal ID to restore safety on the Internet. "Imagine people owning homes and cars and working at jobs under aliases where they create a fantastical identification for themselves - there would be utter security chaos," explains Hardy. "The current state of Internet security is really a misnomer. There is no security. However, there is a way to make using the Internet safe again, a Universal Personal ID." Wow, if that analogy held any weight, it would be really scary. Unfortunately, it doesn't. This woman wants to stop criminals from doing bad things on the Internet. Sounds good. Does she think that when people rob banks, they have a giant ID on their chest that tells people their name and where they live? Does she think that respectable businesses on the Web don't make it very clear who they are and where they do business? Does she think that spammers would comply with the universal ID law? People who buy cars and steal identities certainly don't comply with laws about providing real IDs when they make purchases. I absolutely can imagine people owning homes and cars and working under aliases. It happens all the time. They're criminals! Further, when we go about our daily lives, it's not like we have our drivers' licenses strapped to our chests in large letters. We have all kinds of anonymity in our normal day. When I go to a Sox game and yell absurd things at the batter, I'm fairly certain no one actually knows who I am - that's kind of the point. People love the anonymity of crowds. When I'm at a concert dancing around like a freak show, I'm pretty happy people can't identify me and then post pictures of the editor of Security Systems News making an ass of himself. When I'm at the toy store buying my fifth Wiffle bat of the summer, and I pay in cash, I'm kind of glad no one knows I don't have any kids old enough play Wiffle ball and the game if for me and my buddies. Further, further, this would only give criminals and people with bad intents more ammunition: "Hey, that guy said something I don't agree with online. I have his ID, which gives me his address, I think I'll go knock on his door and give him a piece of my mind. And, what's that, he's got a daughter that goes to school with mine? Well, I'll tell my daughter to tear her hair out!" Etc., ad nauseum. This constant inclination by well meaning people to strip rights and privileges from the law-abiding in an attempt to cut down on crime just doesn't make any sense to me. It strikes me as incredibly cynical: Let's punish everyone because it's impossible to simply punish the bad guys. Well, I say, "no." Let's get better at finding the bad guys and punishing them, and keep the Internet free for open discussion and anonymity where it's appropriate. People who want to build their reputations and make successes of themselves with the power of the Internet will certainly make their identifications known, and people who have something to hide because of their nefarious intent will continue to hide themselves, just as they do outside of their Internet activities.