Anonymity; and the Internet. by Stian Eikeland (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Anonymity; and the Internet. by Stian Eikeland (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


Ontario Provincial Police Recommend Ending Anonymity on the Internet

The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs began its hearings on Bill C-13, the lawful access/cyberbullying bill last week with an appearance from several law enforcement representatives. The Ontario Provincial Police was part of the law enforcement panel and was asked by Senator Tom McInnis, a Conservative Senator from Nova Scotia, about what other laws are needed to address cyberbullying. Scott Naylor of the OPP responded (official transcript not yet posted online):

If the bag was open and I could do anything, the biggest problem that I see in the world of child sexual exploitation is anonymity on the Internet. When we get our driver’s licence we’re required to get our picture taken for identification.  When you get a mortgage you have to sign and provide identification.  When you sign up for the Internet, there is absolutely no requirement for any kind of non-anonymity qualifier.  There are a lot of people who are hiding behind the Internet to do all kinds of crime, including cybercrime, fraud, sexual exploitation and things along those lines.

The Internet is moving so quickly that law enforcement cannot keep up.  If there were one thing that I would ask for discussion on is that there has to be some mechanism of accountability for you to sign on to an Internet account that makes it like a digital fingerprint that identifies it to you sitting behind the computer or something at that time.  There are mechanisms to do it, but the Internet is so big and so vast at this point, and it’s worldwide, I’m not sure how that could happen, but that would certainly assist everybody.  In that way I can make a digital qualification that that’s the person that I’m talking to.  If I had one choice, that’s what I would ask for.

Naylor’s comment was approved by Senator McInnis, who stated that he “absolutely agreed” with the recommendation.

Leaving aside the deeply troubling inference of requiring licences to the use the Internet in the same manner as obtaining a driver’s licence, the police desire to stop online anonymity suggests that the OPP has not read the Supreme Court of Canada Spencer decision very carefully. If it had, it would know that not only does the court endorse a reasonable expectation of privacy in subscriber information, but it emphasizes the importance of online anonymity in doing so. Justice Cromwell, speaking for unanimous court:

There is also a third conception of informational privacy that is particularly important in the context of Internet usage. This is the understanding of privacy as anonymity. In my view, the concept of privacy potentially protected by s. 8  must include this understanding of privacy.
The notion of privacy as anonymity is not novel. It appears in a wide array of contexts ranging from anonymous surveys to the protection of police informant identities. A person responding to a survey readily agrees to provide what may well be highly personal information. A police informant provides information about the commission of a crime. The information itself is not private – it is communicated precisely so that it will be communicated to others. But the information is communicated on the basis that it will not be identified with the person providing it.

Consider situations in which the police want to obtain the list of names that correspond to the identification numbers on individual survey results or the defence in a criminal case wants to obtain the identity of the informant who has provided information that has been disclosed to the defence. The privacy interest at stake in these examples is not simply the individual’s name, but the link between the identified individual and the personal information provided anonymously. As the intervener the Canadian Civil Liberties Association urged in its submissions, “maintaining anonymity can be integral to ensuring privacy.”

Cromwell adds:

Recognizing that anonymity is one conception of informational privacy seems to me to be particularly important in the context of Internet usage. One form of anonymity, as Westin explained, is what is claimed by an individual who wants to present ideas publicly but does not want to be identified as their author. Here, Westin, publishing in 1970, anticipates precisely one of the defining characteristics of some types of Internet communication. The communication may be accessible to millions of people but it is not identified with its author.

The recognition of anonymity as a particularly important component of Internet privacy will not come as a surprise to millions of Internet users to rely upon it to varying degrees to exercise free speech right and to preserve their privacy. It lies at the heart of posts from abuse victims, whistleblowers, and people who cannot otherwise speak out for fear of a backlash.  What is surprising – or at least discouraging – is that the OPP and a Canadian Senator would seemingly jump at the chance to bring it to an end.


  1. except when they want it.
    no on duty cameras, anon finks, no investigations in ops.

    typical, really.

  2. proefficientneckbeard says:

    The driver’s license/mortage argument is crap. You don’t need to sign up for identification for say… entering a public space, expressing opinions, write something on a piece of paper. Saying you need identification on the web because you need to do so for driver’s licenses and mortgages assumes there’s a link between theses things, and that they should be regulated accordingly. This has no base whatsoever.

    Also, I’m not sure these identifications methods are bulletproof either. I’m not saying I wouldn’t want identifications for drivers, but clearly it’s not stopping people from speeding, burning stops, etc. when they know they won’t get caught.
    Bottom line is that removing anonymity on the internet infringe the population’s personal freedom (good, or bad) for little to no measurable gain.

    Also, I’m pretty confident that the idiot who proposed this has no concrete idea how to viably implement this.

  3. The Privacy Guy says:

    I don’t know that what they’re proposing goes far enough.

    Criminals buy groceries, take books out of the library, drive cars, spend money, attend movies, use the telephone, walk around in public, and even go to church…just like normal people! All of these activities should also be closely monitored, so that the law enforcement can more easily identify offenders and arrest them before they do something that would TERRIFY you. Otherwise, a criminal could simply stop using the Internet, and go on a crime spree without fear of repercussions. Give in, forget privacy, and you won’t be afraid any more. Seriously, it’s worked out so well in the past…


  4. Ending anonymity is good if you are a (wannabe) totalitarian government. Facial recognition – with cameras being ubiquitous – will end anonymity even on the street.

    This is the evil of those who crave power: only the powerless suffer.

    Anonymity is one of the checks and balances of a “free society”; it is that stance that allows us “freedom of expression” and “freedom of association”.

    Agreed that child (or for that matter any) exploitation is a bad thing, but totalitarian-like regimes to end it cause an issue much bigger than the original.

  5. This argument suffers from the same misleading logic as things like DRM. It will only end up punishing people who obey the law and have no desire to do harm.

    Anyone who is serious about breaking the law will find or create tools to circumvent any system that requires them to identify themselves. Meanwhile the law-abiding public will lose one of the key elements of the Internet.

    The idea of ending internet anonymity stems from the same polarized view that if you aren’t against the sex offenders, you must be with them. To some people there is no compromise or middle ground. Not only does this prevent constructive discussion about these issues, it ultimately leads to policy based on ideology instead of fact.

  6. I’m more interested in *how* they will remove anonymity on the internet, or try to.

    Device ID (or an injected unique ID at the network level in the headers like Verizon is doing) and storage of all communication content?

    Has anyone asked the OPP how they could get this done?

    All I see is:
    “When you sign up for the Internet, there is absolutely no requirement for any kind of non-anonymity qualifier.”

    Seems to me this means content storage and device/unique ID, among other things.

  7. George Pajari says:

    What’s also discouraging is that someone like Naylor can make it to the rank of Inspector. If this is representative of his ability to think, things are a lot worse within the ranks of the OPP than we thought (although Fantino certainly gave us plenty of reason to be worried).

  8. This is a bad idea on the simple fact that anonymity can save lives, time, and tax payer dollars. There are probably more people out there than they think that would love to be able to find all the information, without having to search, on someone to then attack them in some way for having a different view than them or because they just got whupped in a video game. If people thought swatting was bad now, just wait until their opponent doesn’t have to try and figure out who they are or where they live.

  9. Well Crime Stoppers is mostly anonymous. Do they want to end that program as well (following the same logic of their rational)? Just because something is anonymous does not imply it is bad.

  10. Michael Heroux says:

    The only way to impliment something like that would be registering every device a person buys for online use before they take it for a spin online. Maybe throught the retailer when you buy the device but then when you sell your device you would have to switch ownership like a vehicle. You would have to register through you ISP and if you were to use free wifi at a coffee shop say, you would need a temporary registration or if you are at a friends place or somewhere like that. They could make it so your device would not be recognized or useable on the network until registration. Follow the money. Thanks for reading.

  11. 3 words: Encrypted Network Traffic. I could go massively in-depth about this but the bottom line is: what they have proposed is, in every conceivable way, completely impossible. Distributed VPN’s globally makes it impossible to identify specific network traffic or even what country its coming from. Even if they did somehow manage to successfully subpoena the information from every single VPN, they wouldn’t likely be able to decrypt it to meet their end-game desires. In conclusion, I’ll restate, this is IMPOSSIBLE and frankly I’m sad that our law enforcement is wasting our money on these pointless endeavors. Thanks for reading:)

  12. Internet-friendly says:

    We also MUST have transparent doors everywhere. And passwords and keys are now illegal. All locks are forbidden.

  13. robin ottawa says:

    It is scary to see how disingenuous the police are in this matter. Must they do so much actual evil in order to play the role of devil’s advocate? Does it really make sense for them to strip us of freedom in order to control one aspect of some people’s behaviour?

    Do they really think we don’t see another agenda, that strips them of their credibility and trust?

    Sad, pathetic strategy.

  14. Ironic (and sad) that we celebrate freedoms on Remembrance Day and this is the news that comes up. The Nazis didn’t lose, they were just regrouping.

    What’s next? No anonymity with voting? What do you have to hide?

    Posted anonymously, thank you very much.

  15. I’m gay!

  16. well…the dream of total control is slowly happenning, otherwise why do I need to enter my name/email to post here?

    Before the end of anonymity I highly suggest to have open access to all Govt transactions….otherwise we will have wealthy administrators and poor taxpayers..

  17. I think this is a great idea!
    If we were to end the Net anonymity, we could finally find out how many government agencies are out there, monitoring our every moves… Heck, we couldfind out who are the throlls trying to stir up sh!t…

    Speaking of anonymity and opening things up, do you think the UN will ever make available a financial statment to show who is giving them $$ ?

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  19. Hey, they gonna protect women from all the creeps and stalkers they’ll be making it easier for too? Didn’t think so.

  20. It makes you wonder if the OPP would change their tune about internet anonymity if they were required to provide their Home Address every time they wrote someone a speeding ticket.

    Digital footprints would stop some crime but would most certainly spark other types.

  21. If this ever actually came to pass (which it won’t, not anytime soon, at least), don’t forget – “no anonymity allowed” would never apply to Government or Law Enforcement. Ever.

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  23. I had to double check the date, and no, it really is November 12, and not April 01. The very idea of this being pursued and supported by people elected and chosen to protect , serve and represent us is incredible.

  24. Soldiers, alive and dead, were honoured on November 11th for giving their lives or being prepared to give their very lives for our freedoms and security. How on earth could an OPP senior officer (inspector) and a Senator collectively be so downright stupid? They are both a mockery of the rights and freedoms for which our men and women fought and for which public servants like each of them should be prepared to dedicate their lives to protecting, not destroying! Good God. The idea of abolishing the Senate (a group of non-elected fat cats eating from the public purse) many have far more merit than originally thought.
    The expression that “you can’t legislate against or cure stupid” is well illustrated in this ridiculous proposal. Are all of us against child abuse and ANY kind of bullying? 99.9% of people will say yes, absolutely. Should everyone in the world forfeit their freedoms in the blind hope than some cop will find a child molester or other kind of criminal? No! The real answer is to hire and train smarter people who are not afraid to work and I repeat WORK in the field of policing rather than sitting on their fat asses eating donuts and waiting for a computer program to point them in the direction of the bad guys. Am I upset? Yes! But, I am also very proud to be a former military officer who put his life on the line when serving. Maybe it is time for top cops and senators to walk the talk and do the same! Let’s start by having all their communications past, present and future on public display by the people paying their salaries, namely the public.
    Thanks for reading my rant.

  25. Warren Tooley says:

    This idea has already failed. On blog sites, they’ve said they can take off your blog if its abusive etc. On one site, the person in charge talked about the proposed ban on fireworks, and that one of the reasons for the proposed ban could be to reduce ACC costs.

    So I went and explained that ACC has a $24 billion surplus and has lent almost the whole amount to the government. I explained how people I knew who are injured are getting no help. And that my yearly ACC bill, comes in earlier each year.

    My comment got deleted, I was told it was way off the subject. Those who are monitoring it, don’t want certain information out. It means government corruption will not be kept in check.

  26. Warren Tooley says:

    To clarify, the prime minister of New Zealand wanted to ban fireworks.

  27. Warren Tooley says:

    ACC means Accident Compensation Corporation. When you have an accident, ACC pays for you. And any activity you do has an ACC levy attached to it, in New Zealand. Sorry for not clarifying.

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  30. nissandrifter07 says:

    So next thing we know we will need a fingerprint scanner to log in to the web. Kids are stupid if they get bullied by a keyboard warrior and obviously deserve it. As for sexual harassment online those people/children either should not be viewing those pages or some one with an IQ above 50 and common sense should be supervising them. FFS people are absolute retards these days. Shit i have been online since i was 7 now 26 and never had any problems online besides a few Keyboard warriors LOL in there face and get over it.

  31. Warren Tooley says:

    nissandrifter07, In that case, being able to block emails, should be the solution. It gives the victim control to say “This isn’t a good idea, I need to protect myself”. But to do that, people need to exercise discernment. Having someone else in control of everything causes us to be lazy in that respect. So I think being able to block, should be enough.

    As I’ve said before here in NZ, monitoring the net isn’t helping. If the person in charge of the blog doesn’t like your comment or agree with your viewpoint you lose.

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  33. Hitler would have loved what Canada is now.

    The more nazi ideals we adopt as “in our best interests” the the more will kill what Canada is and what those who died to protect fought for it to become….

    Letting our country turn into what Nazi Germany was is appalling….

    And the sheer amount of you who support it….. there is no words to describe what you are…. but I’m sure the history books will think of something clever.

    If it don’t stop… those of us with a conscience will be forced to intervene…
    There is no way we as decent human beings can stand by and let history repeat it’s self.

    Day by day that time draws closer…. and ruling class sabotage their way of life…

    We don’t vote, we don’t pay to watch ruling class TV anymore….. we don’t listen to the news… we listen to each other……. and if the fuhrer does not adhere to decency and common sense…. history will repeat itself…..

    So I guess the question we must ask ourselves….. how intelligent is the ruling class? …. and how stupid do they think we are?

    We will see……

    • And this is why a country like the USA had written into the constitutional amendments “The right to bear arms” and phrases such as “threats both foreign and domestic”.

  34. It seems this kind of creepy totalitarianism is happening in many Western countries. I’m based in Oceania and we are seeing much of the same behaviour. Find a minor or easily remedied social problem, inflate it and use it as a justification to strip people of their basic human rights.

  35. How many people get charged with child pornography a year?
    How many people use the internet?
    Guaranteed those two numbers could never justify some easily hacked log in credentials.

  36. Like they don’t know who you are already….

    Internet ID is perfect for criminals – they can now hide behind other people’s IDs. Another brilliant idea in the “obfuscation arena”.

  37. We want a camera live 24/7 in your bedroom to make sure you are not involved with child pornography.

    You’re either with us or with the pedophiles.

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