[Dave Birch]  It can be very confusing, trying to think about digital identity (in our sense of the word, the relationship between real and virtual identities) in the context of evolving technology and emerging social and business structures.  And it’s even harder for governments and regulators to understand what to do when, in reality, we are still at such early stages in the “information age” and so don’t really know how society is going to adapt.  Take, for example, the issue of “real names” on the Internet.

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Earlier this year, there was some coverage of a story summarised here as “The Most Famous Pervert in China” (warning: adult content and theme).  Just to give you a flavour, the story begins
“Let me introduce myself.  I used to be the demon warrior ”Xianzi Ke’er“ in WoW District 2’s Maiwei Audio-visual server alliance.  I joined this game in order to accompany my wife in real life.  She played the role of a human preacher with the pretty name ”Dim Moon.“
In essence the wife in this story had an affair (in ”real“ life) with person she met in WoW: her guildmaster, in fact.  As far as I can tell, her husband posted the details of her infidelity (after she fell asleep at the PC leaving a chat window open), whereupon fanatical guildmembers held a rally and committed mass suicide (in the game), for reasons I am culturally unable to divine but are clearly something to do with being shamed by their guildmaster (in virtual space) because of his actions (in physical space).  It’s a story that makes you reflect still further on the unfolding relationship between real and virtual identity and I was thinking about it again before the Forum because of the case of DCInside, a famous Korean Internet site which has been criticized after a student taped another student masturbating online and then used the social networking site to spread it.  I was thinking that the student didn’t use his real name, which is why they can’t find him to punish him, but the guildmaster did, so his lover’s husband could find him: buried in these stories is, I think, something about pseduonymity.
This case, amongst other cases, has led to Korea (like China) to try to find a way to introduce a ”real name“ system for the Internet.  It can only be a matter of time before the U.K. Government proposes something similar  — ”The Dangerous DNS Act of 2007“ — although whether they will favour the Chinese system of tying Internet ID to National ID or the Korean system of having a new identifier for the Internet (because there have already been large scale compromises of the national ID number scheme for, apart from anything, creating new virtual world accounts), who knows.  In any case, the system already in use in China doesn’t appear to solve the problem because experience seems to indicate that Internet cafes, mobile telephone retailers, and blog services will not seriously implement registration because of commercial interests.  If registration is to be based upon the national identification system, then the service providers must access that database (which charges 5 RMB per query). This means that full implementation is costly, so they won’t do it (a lesson for the UK National Identity Register, I think).
The problem, of course, isn’t unique to the Far East.  There was a programme on BBC Radio 5 yesterday discussing the problem of ”teacher rating“ boards where kids log in anonymously and post reviews of their teachers.  You can easily imagine the results.  But shouldn’t a system allow whistleblowers?  There is a genuine problem here: I want the government to find terrorists, catch stalkers and prevent perverts from contacting my children.  But is ”real names“ is a real solution?  I was very surprised to find this comment from a ”China Youth Daily commentator“ who said that the correct approach to the problem is through the private and not the public sector:
Instead of setting up more laws for the government to intervene in such matters (which treat private disputes as national crimes), it is better to have civil laws and processes that allow citizens to seek legal remedy on their own in order to defend their rights.
Yes, but how?

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