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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The technological assault on anonymity Lockton, Vance Michael

Abstract

Anonymity, the state of being nameless, is a very divisive issue. On the one hand, criminals frequently attempt to hide their identities during the commission of crimes; because this is the use that is best understood, many people view this state as a negative status which needs to be eliminated. Others though, including many lawmakers and psychologists, have recognized that anonymity is a necessary feature of both a democratic society and of general mental well-being. However, regardless of one's opinion of this state, it must be admitted that technological advances are threatening to eliminate one's ability to be anonymous. As closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are installed by the thousand, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are added to both ID cards and merchandise, and virtually all commercial transactions are recorded, very detailed pictures of people's lives are being created, and they may find fewer and fewer locations in which they are not identified. Even in the online world, where identity exploration and free access to knowledge abound, governments are applying pressures on service providers to allow constant access to users' true identities. This thesis will examine these technological threats to anonymity, as well as providing a detailed explanation of the reasons that anonymous action is a vital resource to the public. It will then conclude by surveying and critiquing the various means which have been suggested for the protection of this resource, and provide an explanation as to why legislation and education will provide the only ones which are truly effective.

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