Online anonymity

Anonymity is a corollary of a right to privacy; it is a choice you should be able to take when you wish to remain private.

Times that you may wish to remain anonymous may include:

  • When whistleblowing crimes or misdemeanours;
  • When communicating in private with a third party, you may not wish the communication to be revealed, for instance when talking to a journalist or seeking medical or legal advice;
  • When you fear government reprisals;
  • When working in a state whose government you do not trust;
  • When you do not trust a web service that you are interacting with

Of course, it is also the case that people engaging in criminal activity may also wish to remain anonymous online.

Techniques for remaining anonymous

The most famous technique for obscuring your identity online is probably Tor, the onion router. Nevertheless, it is not failsafe, as identifiers such as your browser fingerprint or cookies can reestablish your identity.

Anonymity and security

From a user's perspective, anonymity and privacy benefit your security. In fact, efforts to remove anonymity can create significant security threats for users.

Attacks on anonymity

Oppressive regimes have frequently attacked online anonymity. So have some democratic governments.

South Korea

South Korea created a 'real name' policy, in order to reduce online crime and misbehaviour. It appears to have reduced security of users by providing opportunities for identity fraud. It was struck down as unconstitutional.

"judges said users had switched to overseas sites where they continued to conceal their identity, putting local services at a disadvantage.
There had also been complaints that the system had made it easier for cybercriminals to commit identity theft."[1]

According to the BBC, the Constitutional Court said:

"Expressions under anonymity or pseudonym allow (people) to voice criticism on majority opinion without giving into external pressure … Even if there is a side effect to online anonymity, it should be strongly protected for its constitutional value."[1]


China has a 'real name' policy, but has failed to implement it fully.[2]

The main reasons for the policy seem to be to restrict posting of critical comment.[3]