updated 04:50 pm EDT, Fri September 12, 2008
Internet anonymity threat
A set of technical standards being developed behind closed doors by a United Nations agency that would potentially curb users' ability to remain anonymous on the Internet has privacy advocates and technologists alarmed, according to a Friday report. The standards are proposed by the Chinese government and the US National Security Agency is also part of the IP Traceback drafting group, named Q6/17. Headed up the by the UN's International Telecommunication Union, the group is due to meet next week to work on the proposal, though the meeting will be closed to the media and public, the report suggests.
Critics point out the newfound powers that would strip users of their anonymous identities could be misused, and in many cases violate an individual's human rights that are protected by law particularly in the United States and internationally by the Council of Europe.
A document submitted by China and obtained by CNET News proposes to log essential information about the originator to ensure traceability. Another reportedly leaked document would give government reign over free speech, allowing it to quash their opposition and violating the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, though at least one member of Q6/17 does not recognize the political document as being part of any Q6/17 meetings.
While most parties involved agree tracebacks would be an efficient way to counter DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks, technology experts doubt experienced hackers would be susceptible to be caught by the proposed measures. The DDoS argument has little weight, according to technologist Steve Bellovin, as few attacks use spoofed addresses. There are said to be too many sources in a DDoS attack and the source computer is likely to be hacked.
An earlier proposal from Israel wants Internet providers to be responsible for getting user identification before granting access, akin to the process individuals go through when opening a bank account.
The traceback proposal is scheduled for completion sometime in 2009, although not all members are in favor, says an industry source. In the US, court precedents make a legal requirement to adopt IP traceback a violation of the First Amendment. The ITU constitution has mention of "ensuring secrecy of international correspondence," while the Council of Europe stance is that nations should respect Internet users' wishes not to disclose their identity, although it leaves room for law-enforcement tracing.