Governments around the world are asking whether they should restrict anonymity on the Internet in the name of security. Take Germany as an example. Should Internet service providers be required to verify the identity of their users? Germany recently proposed – and then retreated – on requiring that providers of email services must verify the identity of their account holders. However, Germany is on the path to require that providers of VoIP services must verify the identity of their users. The debates about the proper limits of anonymity on the Internet are profound. In case you’re interested in the details, here is a history of the proposals in Germany, from the drafts of the telecommunicationsurveillance act. German outside counsel summarized these for me.
* 8. Nov. 2006 - First draft submitted to the GovernmentThe German Ministry of Justice put together the first draft of law designed to reform telecommunications monitoring and to implement the directiveadopted by the European Union on the retention of traffic and location data.This draft contained the proposal that email service providers should be obliged to COLLECT and to STORE account data, name, address, date of birth,start date of the contractual relationship (proposed changes to §111 TKG).
* 18 April 2007 - First Draft of the German Government - "Regierungsentwurf" The draft of the German Government did not include an obligation for emailservice providers to COLLECT personal information. It contained, however,the obligation to STORE a personal identifier as well as name and address of the account holder IF the provider collects such data (proposed changes to§111 TKG).
* 29. May 2007 - Recommendation ("Empfehlung") of different working groupsto the German Federal Assembly (Bundesrat)The text did not proposed additional requirements for email serviceproviders to collect or to store personal data. However, it recommended that telecommunication service providers should be obliged to verify via theofficial ID card if the telecommunication user is the person who signed upfor the service (proposed changes to § 95 sec. 4 sent. 1 TKG). German legal experts expressed the opinion that this might also be applicable for email services.
* 8. June 2007 - Statement of the German Federal Assembly (Bundesrat) -"Stellungnahme des Bundesrates" The Bundesrat did not follow the recommended wording and did not suggest anychanges to the First Draft of the German Government as of 18 April 2007 with regard to email services.
So, in conclusion, anonymous use of Internet services is very much up in the air, in Germany, as regards certain services, such as VoIP services like Google Talk, even if the proposal to limit anonymity for email users appears to be off the table. Fundamental rights are in play. The age-old trade-offs between government security and privacy is being re-debated. I know people who spent their entire childhood hiding from the German government.