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On the Internet, Everybody Knows You're a Dog

Just heard a story on Morning Edition reporting on a push by federal officials to force domain-name owners to identify themselves accurately in the WHOIS database, a database which is, of course, publicly available. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) moved earlier this month to make such public identification mandatory for .us domain names, not only making it illegal to provide false information but also eliminating private registrations; they now seem to be on the march to expand this policy across the net.

I’ve seen very little response to this thus far; the folks at have launched a petition site urging the NTIA to reestablish private registrations, arguing that placing personal registration information in a public database exposes innocent people to internet predators. In so doing, though, they make a curious distinction between “privacy” and “anonymity,” suggesting both on this petition site and in an article published on CircleID, that only bad guys really want to be anonymous, but that everyone should have the right to privacy.

I’m entirely with them on the privacy issue; my domain is publicly registered (only because I honestly didn’t know any better back when I registered it), and it creeps me out a bit that that information is so easily searchable. But is the distinction that GoDaddy is drawing between the privacy of private registrations and the anonymity of falsified public information really the key to this issue? Are there no other calls for anonymity than criminal activity? What about political dissent, whistle-blowing, even anonymous blogging? Is “privacy” rather than “anonymity” a sufficient protection for those who need it?

“The Internet is often a lawless place,” the GoDaddy folks claim. That frontier metaphor has been around since the public net’s earliest days, so it should come as no surprise that, as in the case of Deadwood, the government cocksuckers[1] are apparently rolling in to clean it up without any understanding of the situation. And as Cy Tolliver has it, “If we’re going to be surprised by that, boys — government being government — will we next be shocked by the rivers running and the trees casting fucking shade?”

  1. If you watch Deadwood, you won’t have blinked at that. If you don’t, you ought to. ↩︎


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