Mar 212011

My attention was drawn, over the weekend just past, to the ignorance of many in regard to so-called privacy of internet users.privacy-privacy-shower-scene1

Not to go into long-winded explanations, but I have had cause recently to track down certain persons in the online world who have made it their goal in life to denigrate my real-life persona, impugn my character, abuse, insult and otherwise stalk my family and myself through an online medium. Yes, Virginia, there really are such people out there. People who just can’t stand to be beaten in arguments over issues where two parties disagree. One party not really caring one way or the another how or what their interlocutor believes in ideologically, their opponent, obsessed with being challenged by the first and unable to substantiate a position, determined to destroy the challenger by whatever means necessary in the cyber world, and often, the real world as well. As I say, I’m not going into long-winded explanations, but such people do exist and apparently I’ve run foul of at least one.

I have been accused – because I sought to discover who it was that was attacking my real-life persona, denigrating my character and stalk my family and myself – of betraying some unwritten protocol among internet denizens which decrees that pseudonymous anonymity must never be opened up for examination. Why, has never been defined or explained to me, suffice to say that it seems to some that they have a right to be whomever they wish in cyberspace, attack whomever they wish in cyberspace AND the world outside it through cyberspace, with absolute immunity. It seems we all love to role-play at being someone or something we wish we were, especially when that role-playing involves being thuggish from the safety of distance and a cathode ray tube. Such behaviour is quite revealing of those concerned. One need only observe the mindlessness of the #auspol hashtag on Twitter to realise this truth. Anonymity, to some, appears to a birth right, to be used and abused as, how and when they see fit, without repercussion or consequence.

This issue arises time and again in the ether. The reality being that none of us who involve ourselves in online engagement – be it blogging, discussion forums, chat mediums or comment columns – are private persons. If you’re on the net once, you’re on it fifty million times and cached forever. Too many folk fail to realise this simple fact. The issue is whether publically shattering this fantasy of privacy is either ethical, or moral. The question I would ask, especially in the case of one internet persona deliberately stalking, abusing & denigrating the character of another, is it justifiable to ‘out’ the real-life culprit and place them under the harsh glare of public gaze in the real world? In my case, I say undeniably ‘YES’.

These people, it seems, will go to any lengths to achieve what they regard as a victory in shutting down someone who has become their ‘enemy’. To the extent of libellous statements against one’s family, defamatory photographs purporting to be the person they seek to embarrass, when in fact no validation is possible, and the inevitable cloning of any online chat facility from which they will assault anyone who the real individual has contact with in an online sense. The angst, in my experience, is always ideologically driven, but perhaps that’s because I engage with people who are essentially ideologues. Is “outing” such an individual ethical? I’ll leave that to the ethicists to argue. Is it moral? As a form of self-defence – and let’s not forget that such events are attacks of a highly personal nature – I would say very moral. One does, after all is said and done, have the inalienable right to protect one’s self and one’s family.

I was asked yesterday how I managed to unearth a supposedly anonymous persona, and how should one go about protecting one’s self from attacks like those I have endured. The unearthing is very simple. Anyone who has a blog, or even better, a registered internet domain, can be tracked. A simple DNS or WHOIS enquiry through any of the many registry portals to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will reveal all. Names, addresses and telephone numbers as required by any domain registry. Then there is the Australian Business Names registry, ASIC and when all else fails, Google is as powerful a search tool as anyone would need when used correctly & persistently. It’s all public domain information and freely available to anyone who knows how to find it. These are just a couple of the avenues a clever investigator can employ. There are other databases that one employ but I’m not about to disclose those here. For my purposes, I employed ONLY public domain information. It’s remarkable what a simple Google will reveal.

How does one protect one’s self? Primarily, stay off the internet, but that’s not viable so one needs to accept the risk of being in cyberspace on any level, and minimise the information deposited there. Use a corporate entity to register web domains, of using your own name, use a post office box as the address. Use a second mobile phone number as a contact, one that isn’t your private number or home number. Make your home number or private mobile number silent. Consider using a corporate entity for your business presence if using the internet to advertise or conduct business. In regard to email accounts, especially web-based services, NEVER put your personal street address, phone contacts or email addresses into a form or database unless you know you personally can secure the information. Use bogus dates of birth where necessary & possible, and even different names and phantom addresses. In short, keep your exposure to a minimum and obfuscate that exposure as much as possible while still retaining viability of that information you rely upon. The bottom line though, is that none of us on the web have any privacy. If you think you do, or dare to think you’re entitled to it, think again. Literally everything you put into cyberspace is available to be viewed, copied, stored and regurgitated. There is no privacy in the internet, and there sure as hell ain’t no inalienable right to expect others to provide you with it. Do I regret “outing” my stalker? Not one whit and I’ll do it again, as & when I deem There’s a war going on, and I don’t take prisoners.

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