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FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.
Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, reportedly made some recent comments about the death of anonymity on the Internet at the recent Techonomy conference. Should full identity transparency be the universal Internet norm? No!
Mr. Schmidt reportedly pointed out that there were five billion gigabytes of information created from the dawn of civilization through 2003, but that an equal amount of information now is created every two days; with the pace increasing. Mr. Schmidt reportedly stated that the bulk of that information comes from user-generated data, and he said that such information can be used and analyzed to predict specific human behavior.
For example, he reportedly stated that if a person's messaging and location are analyzed with artificial intelligence, it is possible to predict where the person will go next. He reportedly added that with just 14 photographs, it is possible to identify a person, and many people have far more than 14 photos online via Facebook and otherwise.
Potentially the real rub came from Mr. Schmidt's reported comment that problems such as identity theft require "true transparency and no anonymity." He reportedly remarked that "it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a [verified] name service for people. Governments will demand it."
Hello? In our country, there is a First Amendment right to communicate freely and potentially anonymously on the Internet. Of course, there are appropriate limits. If someone can make a "prima facie" showing that he or she has been truly damaged by the anonymous Internet speech of someone else, that harmed person can seek to unmask the true identity of the person whose Internet speech caused the harm in order to seek legal redress from that person. But otherwise, people generally are entitled to conduct themselves freely on the Internet without necessarily having to give up their identity.
The world already is becoming a smaller place because of the Internet. There is no reason why all identity barriers generally should be broken down, whether or not possibly demanded by governments, as was suggested. Indeed, it is not surprising that Europe generally is more protective of online privacy than the United States, given the experience of government intrusion into private lives (to put it mildly) in the World War II era.
Likely, Mr. Schmidt's reported comments were off-the cuff and not intended as some broad indictment of Internet anonymity. Nevertheless, this is a response on the side of not completely eviscerating all online freedom through anonymity.
Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP (http://www.duanemorris.com) where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.