It’s not just our superficial rights that are under assault. It’s the very foundation for all our other rights – the right to seek information freely, without being physically hindered, and without fear of reprisal or repercussions. Without that single right, all the other ones fall like dominoes. This is why anonymity is not a luxury, but a precondition for democracy as we know it.
We have a number of rights that are all connected – and which, taken together, make up the foundations of our society.
We have the right to assemble, which means that we can meet and exchange opinions.
We have the right to opinion, which means that we may hold any opinion we like – no matter how insane it may be, or more importantly, no matter how threatening that opinion may be to the status quo.
We have the right to speak freely, which means that we may talk about those opinions.
We have the right to free thought, which means we may reason freely around information we find.
Last but not least, and tremendously important, we have the right to seek information freely, which means that we can seek out and learn any information we like. (Some information can’t be provided to us legally, like the medical journals of other people. But we may still ask nicely without going to court for it.)
Without that last part, we’re not allowed to learn. And yet, that part has come under scary threat. With the NSA monitoring the net, we know that anything we look for is being logged to possibly use against us some time in the future. With advertisers logging any and every search at merchants, that very specific book we examined at Amazon is all of a sudden popping up in Facebook ads.
Lately, a lot of our liberties have come under assault. A staggering lot of them, actually. But what seems like slow random pick-offs come to a completely new urgency when our online activities are being watched.
Today, the net isn’t a “service”. It’s an extension of our thought processes, much like working in a team is a division of labor and a sharing of thoughts. You aren’t entirely sure anymore where your brain stops and somebody else’s starts in an intensely collaborative environment, where you don’t even have to know the other participants personally. It’s no longer relevant which services are provided by different actors. We simply think online. We have a thought and search for more information to meld with it without even processing that we’re inviting the world to share not just our thoughts, but our very process of thinking.
This is why restrictions in seeking information are beyond grave: every other right starts and stops with that concept. If there’s the slightest fear that you may face repercussions for looking at a certain subject in the future, it literally rewires your entire thought processes to avoid that subject.
If you can’t seek information unhindered, you’re not allowed to think freely.
If you can’t think freely, you can’t speak or vote freely.
If you can’t speak freely, you can’t share opinions or assemble freely.
There are many forces trying to restrict what we can reach on the web right now – ranging from the copyright industry, trying to get the net and search results censored for pure business reasons, to religious fanatics who are determined to force their worldview on the world. And all of this is welcomed by most administrations who see it as the thin edge of a two-ton wedge to start limiting the supply of thoughts available on the net – after all, there are “bad” thoughts, as they see it, and how convenient to be able to turn them off at the flick of a switch.
Anonymity is not just a right in itself – the right to send a message to anybody else without revealing your identity. It is also a safeguard against taking away the right to free speech and free thought. It is a safeguard against poking holes in all of the above rights.
The right to anonymity is the last line of defense.
For if you can seek information anonymously, you can still seek information. If you can share information and thoughts anonymously, you can still share information and thoughts. In a society where government agencies are approaching mind-reading capability, able to watch our thoughts as they form in our heads, it has never been more important to conceal your identity.
Privacy remains your own responsibility.