Sunday, July 29, 2012

Newsroom and the Myth of Anonimity

Aaron Sorkin's ficitional anchor Will McAvoy is having trouble sleeping.  It seems the cause of his insomnia is anxiety over an anonymous comment left on his blog threatening to kill him for denying the realities of radival Islam.

McAvoy consults the one Indian employee on his staff whether there is anyway to identify who leaves comments on his blog.  Apparently, the irony of making the one Indian in  the office tech guru escaped Sorkin.  The answer Will got was that doing so was impossible.

The truth is its very easy to track who leaves comments on a blog.  For a multi-million dollar mega conglomerate, it would be even easier. 

Here are the simple facts.  Every computer on the Internet has an IP address associated with it.  Just like the post office uses your address to route email, routers on the Internet use the IP address to route Internet traffic.

Anytime anyone access a website, posts a comment or sends an email their IP address is logged by the server they are communicating with.  Those addresses are owned by Internet Service Providers who keep logs of which of their users used the address at which time.

In the case of a death threat or other illegal activity the FBI can issue a warrant to get the ID of the person using the IP address from their ISP.  It's a simple and straight forward process that has been used in countless investigations.

While it is true a user could try and hide behind a proxy server, a site designed to mask a user's IP address, it is also possible for website operators to block access from known proxy sites.

In addition, websites can require users to register, which requires a valid, confirmed email address.  Again site operators can link email addresses to ISPs to IP addresses.

It is very difficult to remain completely anonymous on the Internet.  Even if someone up to no good used an open wifi connection, their computer name and other information is still sent to sites they use.  If they use a public wifi, law enforcement may even be able to pull video surveillance of the user.

Virtually every episode of Newsroom is littered with inaccuracies and lies.  If they can't even get a simple fact about blog comments correct, what credibility do they have to get the important information correct.

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