Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

On Anonymity, Privacy, Rights, and Responsibility.

This week, I stepped in the middle of a petty fight between two bloggers on opposite ends of the political spectrum. The first, Richard Silverstein, had put up a post in which he claimed to have come across the real identity of anonymous blogger “Aussie Dave”, on Facebook. My immediate thought, upon seeing the screenshots of the Facebook page, was that it was fake. A blogger, who has been blogging anonymously for nearly ten years, does not make the rookie mistakes of a) putting his address on Facebook and b) linking his real life Facebook page to his anonymous blog. I pointed this out to Silverstein (in fewer words), who claimed that the information was trustworthy and had been emailed to him, and that the blogger had inadvertently connected his blog to his Facebook page. To the latter, I commented, “Oh good” and left it at that.

The next morning I awoke to dozens of tweets and emails (which were, it is worth noting, all from someone at the same New Jersey IP address who clearly doesn’t understand how anonymity [doesn’t] work) attacking me for “supporting” the outing of an anonymous blogger. Reading into it further, I discovered that I’d been right: the whole thing was a setup designed to entrap Silverstein, who fell right for it. Despite that, I continued to be bombarded by slanderous comments attacking me and the organization for which I work.

Now, before I continue to today’s developments, let me point out a few things:

a) I don’t actually know Richard Silverstein. So while EFF has been derided as a “supporter” of his, the only connection is the fact that I am friends with his very public Facebook profile and that I occasionally read his blog. On my own, personal, time.

b) I did not, and do not, support Silverstein (or anyone’s) outing of an anonymous blogger, regardless of personal politics or personal opinion of another person.

c) None of my comments have had anything to do with politics, and I resent being accused of such. Contrary to “Aussie Dave”‘s claims, we have spoken in the past, and, having read his blog, I don’t like the guy, but…

d) Once again, that has no bearing on his right to be anonymous.

So, this brings me to today. On my way out of the house a couple of hours ago, I checked my mobile to see if Twitter was back online after maintenance, and sure enough, it was. And checking my mentions, I learned (from Aussie Dave himself) that Silverstein had “outed” Aussie Dave, this time for real, posting a slew of personal information including a link to his real Facebook profile, which included photographs of his children.

It would appear that Silverstein discovered Aussie Dave’s identity using a very basic WHOIS tool that allows one to see the domain history of a given URL. And while Aussie Dave later used proxies to renew his domain, he initially bought it using his real name and email address. Silverstein then linked that to other personal information that was publicly available online.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I neither support nor approve of this, and I sincerely hope Aussie Dave and his family are not at any real risk for it.

That said, for the benefit of all of the other anonymous bloggers out there, a few things need to be said. First, in respect to EFF’s work, as EFF has unfairly been derided by some bloggers, despite having had nothing whatsoever to do with this. Several bloggers have pointed to EFF’s Anonymity issue page, noting that we work to protect anonymous bloggers. This is true. But read further, and you will note the following:

We’ve challenged many efforts to impede anonymous communication both in the courts or the legislatures. We also previously provided financial support to the developers of Tor an anonymous Internet communications system. By combining legal and policy work with technical tools we hope to maintain the Internet’s ability to serve as a vehicle for free expression.

EFF’s actual work in this area is mostly limited to the above: ensuring anonymity remain a legal option on the Internet and providing or supporting tools to help bloggers and other Internet users achieve that goal.

On a personal level, I believe very much in these principles. And yet, with my single, lazy comment of “oh good” I’ve been deemed–in the eyes of Aussie Dave’s crowd–someone who “cheers on” the outing of bloggers I disagree with, someone who goes against my principles, and all sorts of other absurd things I won’t even dignify with a response.

So, do I believe that Aussie Dave is entitled to those rights just like anyone else? Yes, I do. But, just like anyone else, it is his responsibility to protect his own identity online. If you choose to be anonymous, the law should protect that as your right, but the responsibility is on you as an individual to ensure you take all of the necessary precautions to remain anonymous. I can certainly say that I don’t think what Silverstein did is cool, but for all of the anonymous bloggers out there who might be reading, please note: Everything he did involved publicly available information.

Aussie Dave has asked me to call on Silverstein to take down the personal information, in my professional capacity. This is a grave misunderstanding of what I do. In my personal capacity, I certainly could, but I’m not sure what good it would do at this point. Once an anonymous blogger links his personal information to his blog, he has taken a huge risk. And, however unfortunate, once that connection has been made public, it is on the Internet to stay.

Legally, I’m not sure what paths of recourse Aussie Dave might have (I’m not a lawyer). I offered to suggest a few contacts who might be able to offer advice (as I would for anyone in this situation), but he has not responded.

That’s my final word on the matter. I hope that any anonymous bloggers out there will think hard about the information they’ve posted online and whether they are truly protected from those–governments or individuals–who might wish them harm, and that anyone thinking of starting an anonymous blog consider utilizing the following resources:

23 Comments

  1. Thank you. Very good response.

    It wasn’t just the “Oh Good”, there was another comment denigrating Dave, but your explanation here covers most of it.

    It’s pretty hard to do stuff anonymously today and that is as bad for the good guys as it is good for the law enforcement trying to get the bad guys.

    • I appreciate that, but am curious as to why you then choose to misrepresent me over at Israellycool.

    • I’m not Israellycool Dave. I can’t speak for him. I tend to write much more critical stuff about Islam and it’s bearing on the ceaseless Jihad against Jews and Israel than he, but he has granted me license to post on his blog.

      In my comment above I used the phrase “most of it”. What I still can’t abide, and this is the real problem, is that you have an obvious prejudice toward the kind of hate filed nonsense that Richard Silverstein espouses.

      Unless you’d like to tell me that you have regularly looked at Israellycool, and especially Dave’s overwhelmingly up-beat and pleasant posts about life and pop culture in Israel (for this is the bulk of his posts) what I want to know is how you knew he was an “asshole”?

      Because if, as looks to be the case, your view of Dave is founded on the lies of Silverstein, then you are acting under prejudice. Silverstein lies: his desperation to “out” Dave, seemingly the only weapon he can find in his limited intellectual range, lead him to believe and publish anything. This is the usual resort of someone who knows he cannot compete on a regular playing field of political ideas. There are some on the left who can, but RS isn’t one of them.

      When we have the New York Times taking this man’s word on subjects that can literally result in death (his completely irresponsible publishing of what should have been court testimony and his invented nonsense about The Mossad for example) it’s clear he is at least a tainted source and at worst poison in the sphere of public discourse.

      But on another note, the jelly fish photography is great: can’t stand the things myself having been stung as a child and having had my own child get stung this summer.

  2. you make me utterly ashamed I ever supported the EFF. It is my sincerest wish that you be terminated from your position for your vile and utterly indefensible actions. You are the very type of person the EFF should be fighting against. It is particularly shocking considering your “support” of people in repressive countries. Apparently by this “logic” you would have no issues with revealing their information should it be publicly available.

  3. this is a load of horsecrap, just like your horsecrap org that does little to nothing for bloggers

    you still havent explained why you cared so much to even message dickie

    you arent just an innocent bystander, but are in fact a pro terrorist, anti israel lefty shill

    • you still havent explained why you cared so much to even message dickie

      Easy. It flew by in my Facebook feed, just like the other fifty things I commented on that night.

      you arent just an innocent bystander, but are in fact a pro terrorist, anti israel lefty shill

      Care to back up your slanderous comments with facts?

  4. Your weak defense against your abhorrent actions simply shows that you’re unfit for your position at the EFF. If you had any dignity whatsoever you would resign immediately. I donated in the past to the EFF, but I will never do so again unless you either resign, or are terminated. You encouraged the outing of an anonymous pro-israel/anti-islamofascist blogger. You of all people should know that anyone who criticizes militant Islam is a target for violence, especially in the wake of the attacks and numerous threats on Lars Villick.

    I will do everything legally possible to ensure that you lose your position at the EFF due to your actions in this situation.

  5. Funny, I sent you an e-mail, and I don’t live in New Jersey. I’ve never actually been to New Jersey. So if you got more than one e-mail, your insinuation that all of them came from the same person is false. Nice try ;-)

    The “oh good” comment is indefensible, and you have no business in the position you now hold.

  6. As an EFF supporter I must display a certain amount of discomfort with this reasoning. We have all gotten into petty disputes from time to time, and reading over some of the material, it remains quite clear that you took one side in a petty dispute which ended in the outing of a blogger.

    Did that outing involve the display of available information? So did quite a few hacks of private accounts involve using available information to answer questions and gain access.

    We should all be able to agree that there is something problematic about outing bloggers and that this is not a form of behavior that Ms. York should have become associated with. I would have a great more respect for her if she admitted that she had been caught up in an online dispute and failed to use her better judgement.

    • I think Peter Clinton is right. Jilian’s tweet stating that Aussie Dave’s outing was not her problem seems contrary to EFF’s mission. And indeed, she did, as Peter Clinton reports, take one side in a petty dispute which resulted in the outing of a blogger. She did more, than just take sides in a petty dispute.

      She spoke in a manner contrary to EFF’s mission.

      Pretty troublesome.

  7. oh, so you and dickie are facebook pals…figures

    i need facts? the anti israel crowd doesnt need facts when it slanders the state and her people

    you are pro terrorist….cheering on the rise of a military junta in egypt, soon to give way to the muslim brotherhood….

    you weep at the death of arab terrorists in israel…thats right…throw a stone or a molotov cocktail and your status immediately changes from peaceful protestor (a phrase not even the arabs are dumb enough to use anymore, having changed it to unarmed) to terrorist

    all the facts that i need

    good day ma’m

  8. You miss the main point. Dave had prove that Silverstein is not reliable source of information, usinf unchecked false information, inventing news and dileberately misinterpreit in order to meet his own extreme political agenda ! I think that we all should exalt Dave trick and denigrade Silverstein unappropriate behave.

  9. That little slip up rude comment revealed that you clearly aren’t much for anonymity on a personal level and let your political views cloud your judgment. The rest is just careerist damage control and doesn’t feel honest at all. I don’t know how the EFF with a straight face can keep you after this, they should replace you with someone who actually represents the EFF.

  10. Jillian,

    Regarding your claim that we have spoken in the past, please prove it, since I have absolutely no recollection of any conversation with you. A search of my emails revealed you have commented on my blog before:
    http://www.israellycool.com/2008/07/03/he-was-not-a-terrorist-just-a-very-naughty-boy/comment-page-1/#comment-18523

    While you obviously disagree with my politics, I did allow your comments to stand (I encourage freedom of expression on my blog). So I am curious as to why you characterized me as an “asshole” on the tweet you refused to acknowledge in your post above, a tweet that provides more context to your “Oh good” comment and lack of attempt to deter Silverstein from doing the unthinkable.

    Excuse me if I’m still not convinced by your sincerity.

    • Dave,

      I recall a conversation on Twitter years ago, but I don’t keep screenshots of that sort of thing, so I really can’t prove it. Regardless, my comment was out of line, and I apologize. I mean it when I say that my opinion of you has no bearing on your deserving of anonymity. At the time that I made the comment, I had just learned that you had intentionally baited a blogger with a fake identity, and was therefore not inclined to take it very seriously. I had no idea Silverstein would take it further.

      I’m now aware that I stepped in the middle of an ongoing spat between two bloggers, both of whom I am only nominally aware of (e.g., I’ve read both of your blogs at some point in the past). You can bet I wish I hadn’t.

      -Jillian

  11. @BrianofLondon,

    As I said to Dave above, I’ve only been a very casual reader of both blogs, and not recently. Silverstein’s beliefs are probably closer to mine than Dave’s, but I couldn’t honestly tell you if we’re in agreement, because I really don’t know the guy beyond the occasional social media interaction. After this incident, I don’t want to.

    My opinion of Dave was formed awhile back, through Twitter interactions, but as I told him above, my comment was out of line and I’m sorry for it.

    -Jillian

  12. Silverstein’s beliefs are probably closer to mine

    and dickie supports the regime in iran, hezbollah and hamas

    he also goes out of his way to excuse arab terrorism

    thank you for providing proof that you are in fact, pro terrorist

    bazinga

  13. Pretty weak explanation. Ms. York. You just don’t seem very creditable claiming to have no partisan bias. You would condemn this happening if the political affiliations where reversed, which is so typical these days. Of course you will deny this, if you even let this post appear, but people with sense know.

  14. Wow did you break your arm in the midst of the self congratulation? Did you really find it just that easy to absolve yourself for some really really sleazy and demeaning behavior? And finally did you think us so naive as to accept without question your version of events, where are Aussie Dave rightly points out you conveniently left out the tweet with the asshole comment? Got a mirror? Cuz I think you can stare an asshole right in the face!

  15. “Everything he did involved publicly available information.”

    I don’t know the three of you, and I don’t think I’ve read any of the blogs involved, but “Oh good!” is one of those careless phrases that can reveal the true person on the other side of the keyboard.

    Yes, everything is public knowledge. And garbage is public property. But when I see a raccoon rooting through the garbage, I don’t make exclamations of approval even when I don’t like the guy who threw it out.

  16. Ah the “joys” of getting caught up in someone else’s flame war.

    You have my sympathies.

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