Controversy over anonymity on the web boils up again

As France and the European Parliament spearhead discussions around the future of online anonymity, the merits of this practice are now on the table. The concept of an European-wide eID is also contributing to the dynamics of the conversation.

The principle, widely held in the regulation of internet practices – that what is prohibited offline, should be the same online – is often conceived as the guiding thinking for the European Union’s platform law, the Digital Services Act (DSA). Politicians and experts are once again reconsidering the implications of this principle for online anonymity, especially now, when unobserved motions are quickly diminishing even in public spaces. This ongoing debate, reignited during discussions on the DSA, is currently being primarily furthered by the French National Assembly.

However, the push for transparency does not stop there. Besides the conflicts around the DSA, several deputies from the liberal and centre-right factions have brought forward motions to limit the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). These digital tools, often used to obscure one’s online footprint, have become a point of contention. The proposals brought forward aim to restrict or even ban downloads of such programmes from app stores.

The European Parliament

Funny but also sad, these people make decisions for you and me:

This move represents another step towards the potential end of online anonymity. VPNs are frequently used to maintain the users’ privacy and security, as they prevent third parties from tracking the users‘ online activities. However, at the same time, they can be exploited for illicit activities, as perpetrators can leverage these tools to hide their identities.

The debate around the future of online anonymity, marked by the proposed legislation and the discussions around the launch of the European eID, indicates a shift in the way the online world is perceived. If these measures pass, internet users will face tangible changes in online privacy laws, which could have significant ramifications for the digital landscape as a whole.

The French National Assembly’s stand on this issue, backed by like-minded arguments from fellow EU bodies, signals a desire for increased accountability online. The idea that we should ‚live‘ digitally as we do offline, coupled with concerns about illicit activities, is further fuelling these efforts. The planned European eID, in particular, looms as a significant tool to put these principles into practice.

Whether this sweeping ambition to end the era of online anonymity is feasible or even desirable remains to be seen. This will largely depend on how successfully stout privacy defenders and digital freedom advocates can counter these developments and protect the rights of internet users. The course of action taken by the European Union will doubtless have an enormous ripple effect on digital privacy norms and regulations worldwide.

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