Author: Martin Paredes
The Internet has created a culture that believes that anonymity is just a click away. This misconception has led to the abuse of online forums and attacks upon individuals. People who would not normally verbally abuse other individuals face to face have resorted to blatant attacks upon individuals who don’t share their viewpoints. Face to face encounters are much more personal whereas Internet relationships are filtered through complex codes of ones and zeros.
Fortunately for the recipients of those attacks, anonymity on the Internet is not as secure as the attackers would like it to be. Although miles of upon miles of copper and fiber optic cable might separate the two participants, they are each connected to the network through a set of numbers commonly called IP. A computer’s IP address is analogous to your home’s address. Each computer connected to the Internet through a dedicated line has a static or permanent number assigned to it every time they connect to the Internet. Even dial-up users, have a traceable IP number that is assigned and logged to them every time they log on to the Internet.
Unfortunately, tracking IP’s is a time consuming effort that tasks the resources of any system’s administrator. With over 4 billion IP addresses in use today, the tracking down of a specific IP address is difficult at best. As with any need in the world, technology always steps forward to make our lives easier. As the Internet becomes more commonplace in our everyday lives, abusive users continue to spawn and wreck havoc upon unsuspecting novices. Companies such as VisualRoute.com make it easier to track down that individual threatening your peace of mind. Other companies have stepped forward to create vast databases of user’s IP’s across the network and identify those trouble makers that are out to harm the user’s of the ‘net.
Novice users continue to join the Internet on a daily basis. Most of the these individuals are law abiding citizens setting out to learn form the vast network of information available out there. Some are just curious and wish to exchange ideas with peers in different countries and some just want to meet that special someone. Unfortunately, human nature tends to rear its ugly head once the feeling of anonymity creeps in. The majority of these users will peek out of their shells for a post or two, just to feel the exhilaration of a temporary release of personal responsibility. Eventually, reality sinks in and the majority of these users return to being responsible members of the Internet community.
For the few that remain problem children, the IP address is the tattletale of the Internet. In a famous English case, the English court fined an individual named David Frankl over 76,000 British pounds for verbally abusing his former employer Brian Corfe. It seems that Mr. Frankl thought that by pretending to be “Christina”, a made up individual, he could cause problems for his former boss by sending fictitious e-mails to him and his associates. By using Hotmail, a popular free e-mail provider, Mr. Frankl felt sure that no one would be able to figure out his identity, much less prosecute him for harassment. To Mr. Frankl’s regret, his use of Hotmail provided no measure of anonymity for himself or his abuse and will forever go down in history as one of the first successful prosecutions of online harassment.
As Mr. Frankl has learned, the IP address will protect our rights as net citizens and allow us to venture deeper into the Internet secure in the knowledge that personal responsibility is still valid even in the digital world of ones and zeros. For those individuals fearing to embrace the Internet because of all the horror stories about identity theft, spam or abusive posters, take heart in the fact that abusers might be able to run, but hiding in the digital world of the Internet is impossible. Sooner or later, they will be brought before the court of public opinion and made to account for their immature tantrums in cyberspace.