Digital minister: ‘Online anonymity is important’

Written by Sam Trendall on 24 October 2019 in News
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Response to parliamentary question suggests government will not introduce legislation to prohibit online anonymity

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The government believes the ability to remain anonymous online is important and has no intention of introducing laws banning social media users from hiding their identity, a minister has indicated.

A written parliamentary question from independent MP Ian Austin asked the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport whether it had “plans to bring forward legislative proposals to prevent people from establishing anonymous profiles on Twitter”.

In response, minister for digital Matt Warman did not categorically state that DCMS would not introduce such legislation. But he expressed a strong belief in the importance of anonymity for certain internet users – particularly those most at risk of harm.


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“Companies need to take responsibility for tackling abusive behaviour on their services, including taking steps to limit anonymised users abusing their services,” he said. “However online anonymity is an important principle of a free and open internet and there are many legitimate reasons why an individual would not wish to identify themselves online – including to protect whistle-blowers and empower victims of modern slavery and domestic and sexual abuse.” 

Warman added: “Globally, anonymity can be especially important for allowing human rights defenders and journalists to operate, especially within authoritarian regimes, without fear of undue reprisal and detention.”

The concept of banning online anonymity is one that various political figures and commenters have floated in recent years. Ministers in Austria went a step further, and earlier this year the country’s then-government put forward draft legislation to require users of websites to register with their name and address.

The concept has not gained such strong support in this country, but some politicians have mooted the idea – with Labour MP Angela Rayner last year telling attendees of a fringe event at her party’s conference that social networks should “stop anonymous accounts”.

 

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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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