OII SDP 2007 (XIII): Privacy, Anonymity, and Identity

Leads: Jonathan Zittrain, John Clippinger, Phil Malone, Bill McGeveran, David Weinberger, Wendy Seltzer

Privacy in Atlantis is a Socratic dialogue between figures called the Economist, the Merchant, the Philosopher, and the Technologist. They are gathered by the wise Counselor who must make online privacy law for Atlantis, and they argue their different positions. The result of the dialogue is that there turns out to be a lot less real difference between “market” ideas of propertied rights in personal information on one hand and a “dignity” concept of privacy as a human right on the other hand. So long as the data subject can consent to collection or use of data in both models, both models theoretically face most of the same challenges.
This session will model the Socratic dialogue of the text, and tease out the tensions presented by identity management, online authentication, and data privacy in the digital era.

Dave Weinberger: walking out the street is now an act of information […] because everything is information

John Clippinger: the citizen has the right to remain anonymous

Joris van Hoboken: How can we teach the Internet to forget some of the information about us?

Dave Weinberger: it’s not about my digital identity, it’s about my self

The Problem

people like anonymity [less scrutiny?] as they go about their lives and businesses, but

  • without [accountability / identity / traceability] people can do bad things. So how to reconcile?
  • people don’t like being humiliated
  • people don’t like being under scrutiny
  • broadcasting certain facts / images / rumors tied to someone’s identity can humiliate and embarrass them. It can also preventthem from engaging in legitimate but risible activities
  • too much knowledge about someone can unfairly disadvantage him or her in a business transaction

The Solutions

  • decouple unique physical identity from data
  • don’t resort to regulatory solutions?
  • how much do user choice/empowerment solutions rely on a high level of sophistication and engagement by people?

Doing nothing or doing something?

Dave Weinberger: we don’t know what we want until we know what we don’t want: ‘no, no, you can’t do that’

[full disclaimer: the socratic dialogue format made the session — actually split in two sessions — richest and quite difficult to freeze in the narrow snapshot of this text]

My reflections

  • Digital personnae are public by definition (see Weinberger’s first quotation). But you got the right to remain anonymous (see Clippinger’s). What about separating digital from physical personnae (in all arenas)? I’d pay with my credit card which would be tied to a contract signed by a digital/administrative personna. I (and i.e. a central certificate issuer) would be the only ones to know about the liaison between my digital personna/e and myself. Anybody working on this? At the global level, I mean, not just as Microsoft’s Identity Metasystem? I guess sooner or later you would disclose one of these liaisons with one of your administrative personnae and this would be the beginning of the end.


Kang, J. & Buchner, B. (2004). “Privacy In Atlantis”. In Harvard Journal of Law & Technology, Fall 2004, 18(1), 229-267. Cambridge: Harvard University.

More info


SDP 2007 related posts (2007)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2007) “OII SDP 2007 (XIII): Privacy, Anonymity, and Identity” In ICTlogy, #46, July 2007. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from https://ictlogy.net/review/?p=578

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