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The Orwellian push for a Chinese-style digital ID is hitting overdrive.
The quest for Big Government and even bigger Big Tech entities to erode what little privacy we have continues unabated. Yesterday, some of the most powerful Silicon Valley CEOs convened before Congress to explain why Americans must show ID to surf the web. Per usual, these schemes to rob our online sovereignty are cowardly and pushed in a vague call to protect children.
U.S. lawmakers' motivation for online ID and age verification and tech CEOs' support for these measures signals a significant shift in the approach to online privacy and anonymity.
The proposal for far-reaching online age verification standards, particularly the suggestion by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg to impose age verification at the app store level, has profound implications. Enforcing such measures could dramatically alter the landscape of online interaction, making it difficult to engage in online activities without linking them to one's official identity. While intended to safeguard minors, these measures also pose risks of even more totalitarian surveillance and potential censorship and could hinder whistleblowing efforts by attaching a real-world identity to every online action.
These nanny-state policies will infringe upon constitutional rights related to free speech and privacy. The First Amendment protects the right to speak anonymously, which has been a cornerstone of democratic discourse since the founding of the Republic. Remember how many Founding Fathers wrote essays attacking their British overlords under pen names? Moreover, there are concerns about the technical and practical challenges of implementing secure age verification processes that do not compromise user privacy or expose sensitive personal information to potential misuse. Spoiler alert: this is impossible.
The support expressed by X CEO Linda Yaccarino and Snap CEO Evan Spiegel for legislation aimed at increasing online safety for children, including the Kids Online Safety Act and the Cooper Davis Act, underscores the tech industry's cynical push for regulatory efforts to protect minors online. However, these legislative proposals also signal a potential sea change in how privacy, encryption, and anonymity are treated online.
The Kids Online Safety Act seeks to expand online age verification requirements, which could significantly affect how children interact with online content. While the idea of protecting kids from porn or ISIS videos is not a terrible impulse, destroying the rights of adults to post their thoughts anonymously is a horrible idea.
The Cooper Davis Act, which targets private messaging apps and could ban end-to-end encryption, represents a direct challenge to secure and private communication. End-to-end encryption is a cornerstone of digital privacy, ensuring that messages can only be read by the sender and recipient, with no possibility of interception by third parties, including the service providers. Undermining this technology will expose users to increased surveillance, data breaches, and malicious actors while hindering journalists, activists, and whistleblowers who rely on encrypted communication to protect their sources and themselves.
This is the backdoor to Chinese-esque surveillance
Anyone closely following the tech world will instantly recognize the Chinese-style security barrier this will create. In China, you must have a digital ID to access its censored web. It makes identifying dissidents and stifling enemies of the regime rather easy. Just to reiterate, these are a few of the intensely negative ramifications of asking for your (digital) papers:
- Online age verification raises significant privacy issues. Robust personal data, such as date of birth or residential details, is typically required to validate age. This would drive exponential data collection with limited oversight.
- The program will discourage anonymous online activity. From political dissenters to domestic abuse survivors, anonymity offers security for many internet users. An age verification mandate could chill this crucial internet freedom.
- The measure could constrict open-access information resources. Sites on peer-reviewed research articles, health advice, and education materials require unhindered, equitable access — a factor that age verification could undermine.
- An economic burden on website operators is apparent. The obligation to install and operate age-verification systems might restrict smaller platforms lacking the requisite resources.
- This directive could inadvertently support a precedent for content censorship, threatening freedom of speech.
The Kids Online Safety Act has nothing to do with children or safety; it’s about curtailing our collective ability to criticize the powerful. Some of the regime's most articulate and intelligent critics have had to resort to tweeting and writing under pseudonyms. This is because we live in a proto-techno-Soviet environment where objecting to the "current thing" results in job loss, doxing, and being excluded from polite society. Protecting the rights of online s**t-posters is an imperative we can’t sacrifice to appease the pearl-clutching "won’t you think of the children?" morons.
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Managing Editor, Return
Peter Gietl is the managing editor for Return.