[Dave Birch] There was a news story in the UK recently about the very sad death of a young woman who was lured to a remote spot by a man who met her on Facebook. The man was pretending to be a teenage boy. Facebook became the focus of the story, with the usual calls for something to be done. So is the sky falling in because of social networking?

You could just as easily argue that criminals are easier to catch because of Facebook, or any other new technology. The police can use them too, can’t they? Doesn’t social networking make it easier for the police and others to work together? Couldn’t Twitter help detectives? Can’t detectives subscribe to RSS feeds on cases of interest? (Frankly, I doubt it, but you get my point.)

[From 15Mb: yet another blog from Dave Birch » Blog Archive » The “Ford Mondeo Killer”]

People might think they’re anonymous, but they’re not. A rational policy on law and order would surely try to get more criminals to carry out their crimes online, because it’s easier to catch them in the virtual world than in the real one.

When a YouTube video came to its attention on Friday in San Francisco, the FBI had a Philadelphia man in custody the next day

[From How the FBI busted one YouTube nutjob in under a day]

It’s the same logic as with money laundering. If you raise high barriers by making people prove who they are before going online then they will either go to great lengths to avoid the rules (thereby enriching middlemen) or just avoid going online, in which case they cannot be tracked or traced at all. I wrote an article for SPEED (“Moving money and securities worldwide”) magazine’s Spring issue, noting that if criminals were to abandon suitcases full of 500 euro notes for platinum pieces in Everquest (frankly unlikely, but there you go) then surely it would be easier for law enforcement officers to masquerade as half-orc barbarians in Norrath than as criminals in the real world and therefore follow the money.

Remember the old cartoon, “on the Internet, no-one knows you’re a dog” from the New Yorker in 1993? When I first started going to internet conferences, this was in every half-assed trying-to-be-hip Powerpoint presentation, including mine (actually Aldus Persuasion, as I used to use in those days). But my point was that this was a good thing. As I wrote some 13 years ago…

In cyberspace, no-one know you’re a dog, but on the other hand no-one knows you’re with the FBI either. Come to that, no-one knows whether you’re a real person or a police-controlled software agent, cruising the Net looking to ensnare miscreants in dirty deals!

[From Journal of Internet Banking and Commerce]

A similar line of thinking must have developed within law enforcement agencies, since I can’t believe that I was the only person to think like this.

U.S. law enforcement agents are following the rest of the Internet world into popular social-networking services, going undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects and gather private information, according to an internal Justice Department document that offers a tantalizing glimpse of issues related to privacy and crime-fighting.

Think you know who’s behind that “friend” request? Think again. Your new “friend” just might be the FBI.

[From MSM: Break the law and your new ‘friend’ may be the FBI « Dprogram.net]

Now suppose that a new government in the UK follows some idiotic recommendations to make people use their ID card, or some internet driver’s licence or whatever, in order to log in to Facebook. You can see why they might want to do this, because it’s been obvious for some time that Facebook is in some circumstances turning into a bottom-up ID management scheme for new online enterprises.

Many companies have turned to Facebook as an “identity management” system (including Gawker Media), allowing people to log into their services using their Facebook identity. The reason is simple: Most people only have one Facebook identity, and they stick with it.

[From Does Obama Want to Replace Your Facebook Profile with Your Social Security Card? | | AlterNet]

It’s fairly easy to enforce this sort of thing. I imagine the Home Office’s management consultants ar already studying the idea full time. All you need to crack down on crime this way is a police state.

All visitors to internet cafés in Beijing will be required to have their photographs taken in a stringent new control on the public use of cyberspace… According to the latest rules, by mid-December all internet cafés in the main 14 city districts must install cameras to record the identities of their web surfers, who must by law be 18 or over… All photographs and scanned identity cards will be entered into a city-wide database run by the Cultural Law Enforcement Taskforce.

[From China photographs all internet cafe customers | The Australian]

The Cultural Law Enforcement Taskforce. I must suggest this to Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom when we next meet. Anyway, why am I rambling on about knowing whether people are dogs or not? Well, because a working digital identity infrastructure for a modern economy needs to support these kinds of sophisticated interaction. I should be able to prove to Facebook that I am over 18, say, without having to divulge my full name, age and address every time I connect to someone. If you make people give up their entire identity in order to get on to a social network, you won’t reduce crime but you will make the criminals harder to catch, since they either won’t use their real identities (they’ll use yours) or won’t log in at all.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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