DHS Official Thinks People Should Have to Give Up Their Anonymity to Use The Internet

by Tim Cushing
Feb. 01, 2016

Apparently, the only way to stop terrorists from hating us for our freedom is to strip away those offensive freedoms.

Erik Barnett, the DHS's attache to the European Union, pitched some freedom-stripping ideas to a presumably more receptive audience via an article for a French policy magazine. Leveraging both the recent Paris attacks and the omnipresent law enforcement excuse for any bad idea -- child porn -- Barnett suggested victory in the War on Terror can be achieved by stripping internet users of their anonymity. You know, all of them, not just the terrorists.

After a short anecdote about a successful child porn prosecution in Europe. Barnett gets straight to the point. Here's Kieren McCarthy of The Register.
Before we have an opportunity to celebrate, however, Barnett jumps straight to terrorism. "How much of the potential jihadists' data should intelligence agencies or law enforcement be able to examine to protect citizenry from terrorist attack?", he poses. The answer, of course, is everything.

Then the pitch: "As the use of technology by human beings grows and we look at ethical and philosophical questions surrounding ownership of data and privacy interests, we must start to ask how much of the user's data is fair game for law enforcement to protect children from sexual abuse?"
In short, if you value internet-related freedoms, you're basically supporting terrorism and child porn. No person -- especially no legislator -- would want to be seen as valuing personal freedoms over the good of the nation's infrastructure/children. And, because terrible ideas must be buttressed by terrible analogies, Barnett theorizes that the internet is basically a car.
"When a person drives a car on a highway, he or she agrees to display a license plate. The license plate's identifiers are ignored most of the time by law enforcement [unless] the car is involved in a legal infraction or otherwise becomes a matter of public interest. Similarly, should not every individual be required to display a 'license plate' on the digital super-highway?"
To use the Fourth Amendment for a moment, a lowered expectation of privacy is in play when operating a vehicle on public roads. However, the Fourth Amendment affords a great deal of privacy to the interior of people's homes. Because the government (in most cases) does not provide internet access, it has no basis to demand ongoing access to citizens' internet activities. It may acquire this information (along with subscriber info) using search warrants and subpoenas during the course of investigations, but it cannot demand (or at least shouldn't) -- for national security reasons or otherwise -- that every internet user be immediately identifiable.

Discussions of requiring a license for internet usage have been raised previously but rarely go anywhere. To do so is to start heading down the path to totalitarianism. Unfortunately, being in a constant state of war against an ambiguous foe often results in legislators and government officials declaring their interest in seeing this path not only surveyed, but the first layer of asphalt applied.

Barnett is one of this number, and he wants a strawman to serve as construction foreman.
"Social media is used to generate support for terrorist groups ... How appropriate is the law enforcement engagement of the social media companies to reveal digital fingerprints of these extremist groups? Who determines the level of 'extremism' of a group? Few would disagree that law enforcement and intelligence services should have the ability..."
Actually, lots of people would disagree, starting with many citizens and running all the way up to their service providers. On top of that, the nation's courts would find the institution of a law that strips the anonymity of internet users to be unconstitutional, so that's another hurdle Barnett and like-minded officials would not be able to clear, no matter their stated justification.

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