Brazilian Senator Eduardo Azeredo has introduced a bill that would make it a crime to surf the Web behind a mask. If the bill is passed, you'll land in jail for four years if you "send e-mail, join chat, write a blog or download content anonymously." All such activities must be accompanied by your name, address...and phone number. Further, ISPs are required to keep logs of your activities for three years. The intent (this is always the intent) is to deter crime.
When I write one of these pieces, this is where I usually finish--an unlikely and frightening scenario designed to provide a little chill. I'm sort of at a loss, here. How much farther can you go beyond the bare facts? How much worse could it get?
The problems with the bill are obvious. First, what if you blog against the government? Against candidates? What are the odds that the more aggressive party volunteers won't react badly to your well-meaning critiques? What about shy persons who want information about sensitive medical topics? What about people who don't want to leave their phone number lying around for the thousands of advertisers who call the Web home? Finally, is this or is this not a bonanza for stalkers?
Brazil won't be the last country to propose this sort of legislation. As crime moves from the physical to the virtual, there will be increasing calls for the digital equivalent of an ID card--which, as with physical ID cards, will be spoofed and hacked and stolen and just generally circumvented by precisely the people it is designed to deter. The card will have a chilling effect on legitimate surfing, with a particularly strong impact on the more "embarassing" parts of the Web (Barry Manilow fan sites, for example). (Okay, maybe the news isn't all bad.)
Back to Brazil: It turns out that the danger is actually slight--one comment on the story explains that the Brazilian Congress is a very deliberate body--Brazilians will probably be able to surf unobserved for some time to come. Unfortunately, the prognosis for those of us with less careful legislatures may not be as good. Get your "Copacabana" fix while you can.