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Anonymity by Design: Protecting While Connecting

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No. 146 Anonymity by Design: Protecting While Connecting

Robert Bodle

Internet Rights and Principles

IGF 2014 sub theme that this workshop fall under

Internet and Human Rights


This roundtable is co-sponsored by Internet Rights and Principles Coalition and the Pirate Party Movement of Turkey.

Tying into the theme of “Connecting Continents” and building on the youth panel from IGF2013 – Bali WS 55 “Online Anonymity,” this workshop brings together leading researchers, technologists, human rights defenders, private industry, and government representatives to assess the role of Internet governance in supporting the development of a more secure and enabling online ecosystem.

This roundtable acknowledges anonymous online communication protects the extrinsic good of liberty, political freedom, self-determination, autonomy, dignity, power, and the ability to think and speak without censorship, surveillance, or retribution (Ermert 2009; Hosein 2006; Tavani 2011; La Rue 2011; Article 8: Right to Privacy Online in the IRP Charter). Anonymity is essential for voters, political dissidents, and whistleblowers to communicate without repercussion or retribution; “a safeguard against political oppression” (Hosein, 2006, p. 129). Online anonymity also protects people from violence offline, including vulnerable and marginalized populations.

This roundtable drills down to the specifics of how anonymous communication is being used to uphold human rights, and how mass surveillance undermines them which includes protection from harm, safety from reprisal, freedom of the press, and freedom to engage in democratic participation (see: Human Rights Watch report “Witness:The Price of Mass Surveillance”). Case studies from several countries will be presented, including the IGF host country of Turkey, Ethiopia, Malaysia, and others. The roundtable will also include discussion of anonymity-enabling technologies and emerging projects, in order to envision and push forward a clear role for Internet governance to protect people, while connecting them.

Name(s) and stakeholder and organizational affiliation(s) of institutional co-organizer(s)

Marianne Franklin
Civil Society
Internet Rights and Principles Coalition (co-Chair)
Goldsmiths College

Robert Bodle
Civil Society
Internet Rights and Principles Coalition (co-Chair)
College of Mount St. Joseph, Miami University

Has the proposer, or any of the co-organizers, organized an IGF workshop before?


The link to the workshop report


Type of session


Duration of proposed session

90 minutes

Subject matter #tags that describe the workshop

#privacy #humanrights #design #security #vulnerablepopulations #anonymity

Names and affiliations (stakeholder group, organization) of speakers the proposer is planning to invite

Sophie Kwasny, Council of Europe, Governmental, Europe
Invited and Confirmed

Nadine Moawad, Association for Progressive Communications, Civil Society, Beirut, Lebanon

Robert Bodle, Mount St. Joseph University/IRP Coalition Co-Chair, Civil Society USA
Invited and Confirmed

Tapani Tarvainen, Vice President of Electronic Frontier Finland (Effi)
Invited and Confirmed

Meryem Marzouki, Sorbonne Universités, Paris, Academic, Europe
Invited and Confirmed

Serhat Koc, Founding partner of Guneli & Koc Law Firm, member of Pirate Party of Turkey Movement, Civil Society, Turkey
Invited and Confirmed

Ebru Yetiskin, Istanbul Technical University, Department of Sociology, Academic, Turkey

Harriet Kempson, Youth IGF Project, Civil Society

Name of Moderator(s)

Marianne Franklin

Name of Remote Moderator(s)

Ms Burcu Bakioglu

Description of how the proposer plan to facilitate discussion amongst speakers, audience members and remote participants

Agenda: First, select panelists will be asked to provide a specific case study on how anonymous communication is being used to uphold human rights, and, conversely, how surveillance has led to human rights violations. Next, select speakers will be asked to discuss anonymity-enabling technologies and emerging projects. A perspective from Law Enforcement will be shared and then the roundtable will open up to floor discussion, with a roving microphone to elicit audience participation. Questions will be posed to the audience whose comments will feed back into the workshop's final outcomes.

Description of the proposer's plans for remote participation

Remote participation will be encouraged through outreach on listservs, social media outlets, and comments will be solicited before hand through advanced notice of the workshop. A remote participation moderator will be present to facilitate comments and contributions from remote participators via IGF's Remote Participation platform, as well as on social media (Twitter, Facebook).

Background paper

background paper

Brief substantive summary of the workshop and presentation of the main issues that were raised during the discussions

The panel presented a series of case studies and problematics around the value and necessity of anonymous communication online. Panelists from a broad cross-section of multi-stakeholders contributed various perspectives that called for evidence-based policy reform to establish and protect the right of anonymous online communication. These perspectives include:

-anonymity as a fundamental human right, enabling other rights (Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Expression and Right to Privacy).
-the qualified nature of existing rights and recommendations by the Council of Europe (2012) with regard to social networks and the protection of data security, which includes end-to-end encryption, as well as the Cybercrime Convention and the limitations to these rights.
-the dangers on non-anonymous practices based on geolocation and big data profiling
-the role of surveillance by corporations for behavioural advertising purposes, which includes e-commerce and cloud based services
-the need for anonymity to protect political protestors in Turkey, specifically related to Freedom of Assembly
-the need for anonymity to enable young people to talk about sensitive issues such as bullying in an honest, open environment
-the importance of anonymity for combatting sexual violence
-the technical side of the realities and socio-economics of anonymity

Conclusions drawn from the workshop and possible follow up actions

There are numerous human rights benefits of anonymity, including enabling other existing rights including freedom of assembly, right to privacy, and freedom of expression.

The importance of open and free social networks for political protest, young people, victims of sexual violence, whistleblowers, and journalists.

Anonymity should be the default and a right for all, not only the rich and powerful.

Anonymity as a right is the responsibility of all stakeholders, users, corporations, governments.

The technical and legal understanding of anonymity needs to be addressed with more nuance regarding state, law enforcement, and e-commerce practices.

Evidence-based policy reform is needed to protect the right to anonymity online in the use, regulation and governance of the Internet.

Estimation of the overall number of participants present at the workshop


Estimation of the overall number of women present at the workshop

the majority of the participants were women

Extent to that the workshop discuss gender equality and/or women’s empowerment

it was raised by one or more speakers as an important aspect of the workshop’s theme

A brief summary of the discussions in case that the workshop addressed issues related to gender equality and/or women’s empowerment

Panelist Nadine Moawad discussed the importance of anonymity for combatting sexual violence. We have seen a number of case studies, in Egypt, in Yemen, Jordan, Palestine, Indonesia, in almost every country, where women use an anonymous tumbler or Twitter to talk about sexual violence; to come out and say, "I was raped. This happened to me. And this is how I feel about it." There are many such examples of women, especially young women who come out and talk about violence that's happened to them in institutions, schools, universities, at their jobs, on the streets. And being able to be anonymous takes away from the details used to blame the victim. Being able to be anonymous helped women put their experiences forward, to talk about the violence that happens and to bring it into the public sphere.

Reported by

Robert Bodle

Workshop transcript


Youtube video




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