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Online anonymity comes under fire from Australia’s top cyber-cop

Criminials aren't the only ones looking for anonymity online.


Patrick Howell O'Neill


Posted on May 5, 2014   Updated on May 31, 2021, 9:07 am CDT

Australia’s top cyber-cop doesn’t think much of online anonymity. 

Tim Morris, the assistant commissioner at the Australian Federal Police and the national manager of high tech crime operations, said at the CeBIT conference in Sydney this week that he believes individuals are entitled to online privacy, but “we don’t particularly agree with online anonymity, particularly with illegal activities.” He also warned that cybercrime is only going to increase in scope and impact.

Morris explicitly connected online anonymity with illegal activity, a viewpoint that has its roots in Morris’s recent history of operations against financial criminals and mobile hackers. He emphasized that anonymity cut down on law enforcement’s ability to act against criminals.

“There have to be risks and consequences for those engaging in crime on the Internet; not just as a deterrent, but it also undermines the internet as a whole and diminishes its utility,” Morris said.

Morris specifically pointed out the importance of collecting metadata in his operations.

“Without that data, successful investigations would never be conducted,” he said. “In our interconnected world, it’s not just cyber investigations, it’s virtually every single time. If we don’t satisfactorily have a capacity to attribute many of these investigations, it won’t be worth taking on.”

Anonymity services like Tor are undeniably used by cybercriminals to mask their identities. However, it’s essential to remember online anonymity is valued and utilized by a wide spectrum of law abiding citizens including journalists, whistleblowers, businesses, domestic abuse victims, police, soldiers, governments, and any other person who seeks more privacy.

Last month, for example, a woman used Tor to hide her pregnancy from marketers who track Internet usage in search of high value targets such as herself. And in March, tens of thousands of Turks used Tor to circumvent extensive government censorship during protests throughout the country.

There’s much more to online privacy and anonymity than cybercrime and bogeymen. If we can’t acknolwedge that up front, then we can’t have an honest conversation about anonymity.

H/T ARNnet | Photo via Keoni Cabral/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: May 5, 2014, 3:02 pm CDT