restricted access 3. Publius Who? Anonymity in an Open Society
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C H A P T E R 3 o PUBLIUS WHO? ANONYMITY IN AN OPEN SOCIETY Anyone who has gone to a Halloween party dressed up in costume knows the scintillating delight of being able to hide one’s identity from others. There is a certain delectable pleasure in leaving the baggage of your past behind, avoiding the biases and stereotypes through which others see you, and having the freedom to take on any persona you choose. Although I’m not the first to make the analogy, it is interesting to consider the ways in which the world has become like a giant masquerade ball. Far removed from the tightly knit social fabric of the village of the past, we’ve lost the ability to recognize the people we pass on the street. People might as well be wearing masks because we are likely to know very little about them. In other words, these strangers are anonymous to us, anonymous in the sense that not only their names, but their entire identities, are unknown to us—the intimate details of who they are, where they have come from, and how they have lived their lives. As we’ll see, society has found many favorable uses for anonymity, such as in medical testing, where protecting the identity of the patient is usually desired. In a society where many people believe the privacy of the individual is preeminent, one would expect this kind of anonymity to flourish. However, as we’ll discuss throughout this book, anonymity has become one of the central vulnerabilities of an open society. Freedom PAGE 26 26 .......................... 10897$ $CH3 08-31-04 10:09:03 PS Publius Who? Anonymity in an Open Society 27 • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • may have allowed al-Mihdhar and al-Hamzi to rent an apartment, use a cell phone, meet with terrorists overseas, and take flying lessons in preparation for 9/11, but anonymity kept hidden the manner in which these individual actions fit together into a larger mosaic of death. Starting with this chapter, this book will examine a variety of questions surrounding the issue of anonymity, including whether society can afford to turn a blind eye to its members in an age of terrorism. Furthermore, if we are to consider removing our masks, are there ways to protect our civil liberties? How will we reconcile improved identification with our longstanding conceptions of privacy? And finally, will there be other benefits in addition to security, such as a revival of trust and improved systems of accountability, that might make it all worthwhile ? Anonymity in America The issue of anonymity is a sensitive one, especially because anonymity has such a long and valued history in America going back to the founding of the country. During the American Revolution, for instance, The Federalist Papers were published in New York newspapers under the name ‘‘Publius,’’ a pen name for the triumvirate of James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. Thomas Paine wrote ‘‘Common Sense’’ and signed it as ‘‘Written by an Englishman.’’ Ben Franklin used many different pen names over the course of his lifetime, including Richard Saunders, author of the Poor Richard’s Almanac. Over the years, anonymity has favorably encouraged authors and social critics to express the full force of their views, from Mark Twain, whose real identity was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, to novelist Joe Klein, who as ‘‘Anonymous’’ wrote the novel Primary Colors. Klein’s novel, a fictional account of a presidential campaign, closely mirrors the Clinton campaign for presidency in 1992. Anonymity often gives people the courage to engage in behaviors that society seeks to promote. Many police departments offer programs such as Crime Stoppers that allow people to report crimes anonymously . Whistle-blowers in investigations often need assurances of anonymity before turning over information concerning wrongdoing. Anonymous treatment and testing is popular at many medical clinics among patients worried about the negative impact of having their illness revealed. A hidden identity can shield the victims of crime or disease, allowing PAGE 27 .......................... 10897$ $CH3 08-31-04 10:09:03 PS 28 Chapter 3 • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • them to seek help or advice without the fear of ostracism or retaliation. Researchers rely on anonymity to protect the privacy of their subjects in a study. The media depend on it to protect their sources during investigations. There are other occasions when anonymity has no clear value other than giving people a little space and a chance to let down their guard. Driving to work among the hundreds of...


Subject Headings

  • Privacy, Right of -- United States.
  • Electronic surveillance -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Social control -- United States.
  • War on Terrorism, 2001-2009.
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