Sunday, July 19, 2009


“I think computer viruses should count as life. I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. We've created life in our own image.” - Stephen Hawking (1942 - )

Would computer viruses (as well as spam) be created and distributed at all if the owner of a computer used to create and distribute a virus or spam were tied irrevocably to the computer by name and address? Oh! There would still be a few malignant souls with a grudge against everyone who would try, but they would soon be caught and have to pay a price for their destructiveness.

Why should computers be any different than automobiles? In all civilized countries, cars have VIN’s, Vehicle Identification Numbers, that are unique to each automobile; and to drive a car you own on a public road, (is not the internet a virtual public road?), you have to register and license your car using a valid personal identification as well as a verifiable residence location. If your car is in an accident you cause you can be easily identified and held responsible, or if your car is stolen it can be identified and recovered. There are exceptions, but they would be much more numerous if cars were not registered and licensed.

So why don’t the governments of the world do the same with computers? Why not require a license and verified identification as well as address to get ISP service and access to the internet? Well, the excuse I hear from many is it would be an invasion of a person’s privacy. Really? In America your privacy is protected to some extent by the Constitution, the auto license information with your name and address associated with your license number is not accessible to the public, only authorized personnel are allowed access to that information by law. But, there is no right to anonymity, in fact is some towns in the Old West masked bandits were so common the towns passed laws no one could go in public with a mask over their face that would obscure their identity. In other words anonymity is an invitation to steal and do other things against others without fear of being identified, so why are computers unlicensed when automobiles are, when a photo ID is essential for identification to open a bank account, or to obtain a deed to a house you have purchased?

I think it is clear that we behave better towards each other in society when our identity is known, and much worse when we have the freedom to assume anonymity. Life is better for all well-meaning people when the others we have to live with are known to us. In the earliest days of colonial times if a person transgressed upon another and did harm they were put on display, bound hand and foot, to reap the shame of public condemnation for the offense. But we see that now as cruel, but it was effective in those times past. And in the mass society of strangers we have today, all of us have to suffer some fear that someone unknown to us is likely to do us harm. Every day drive-by shootings and home invasions are reported warning us we live in a dangerous world.

So why at least when it would be so easy to do because every computer is like an automobile, it has its own unique number, do we allow a few ignorant, misguided people that mistake anonymity for privacy prevent us from making computers and the internet a much safer community? If people, individuals are not honest enough in their intentions to identify themselves, why should they be allowed to remain a part of our virtual internet community? But sadly in America we do not even have a way to secure our personal identities, they are easily stolen every day. And, a few who are again confusing anonymity with privacy have been able to block a national secure personal ID system from being enacted. Are we all that ignorant and unthinking to believe there is some positive value in anonymity that we must all tolerate an unnecessary risk at the hand of the unknown other?

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