Requiring ID For Social Media Will Cripple Privacy and Security For The Masses

A recent UK petition challenges the fundamentals of privacy and security. Learn about it, why it won't work, and how you can protect yourself.

Requiring ID For Social Media Will Cripple Privacy and Security For The Masses

Many can agree without a doubt that the United Kingdom is already a heavy surveillance state. In 2016, Parliament passed the Investigatory Powers Act, also known as the Snoopers' Charter, which allows the government to surveil all means of communication, internet activity included. The Act also grants access to multiple police and government agencies to access this data without a warrant. Just within the last few weeks, two unnamed British internet service providers were developing and testing the collection of internet users' metadata. Metadata includes information such as the websites you visit, the amount of time you spent on pages, and how much data transferred between you and the site but not the actual content. But, metadata on its own can be revealing.

The United Kingdom also operates one of the largest government-operated CCTV networks in the world. About 4 to 6 million cameras are currently online monitoring every move a person could make. These recordings might pass through facial recognition platforms and uncover your social media profile and identity just from your face if it is public.

The United Kingdom is also one of the founders of the UKUSA agreement, which formed an intelligence-sharing organization of nations. You may know this as the Five, Nine, or Fourteen Eyes. The agreement intended to spy on the Soviet Union during the Cold War but wasn't voided after the conclusion of it. So theoretically, any intelligence they and a member nation collect might be shared.

Now that we know the extent of surveillance in the United Kingdom, let's move on to the underlying issue.

The Petition

On March 10, 2021, a YouTuber named Katie Price unveiled a petition to the United Kingdom's Parliament. This petition demands that a user submit a valid photo ID to sign up for social media. Price cites her disabled son Harvey and that they have experienced "the worst kind of abuse towards [their] disabled son."

To be clear, trolling and harassment of any kind, especially towards a disabled person, is unacceptable. Nobody deserves to get bullied or harassed online just because they have a disability or were less privileged. I understand why Price is making this petition because she wants accountability for the people that harass him. However, having total accountability is impossible even with this petition, should it somehow become law that I will explain why.

This petition, if it becomes law, will ultimately do more harm than good. Price fails to see the bigger picture of requiring identification for every social media platform, which has devastating effects on individuals' privacy and security. An online identity is the equivalent of another person in a way. Not everyone wants to link their online identity, which can be usernames and profiles, to their in-person identity. This can be for multiple reasons but is seldom to hide behind a shield to bully and harass.

But saying that you don't need or want privacy because you have nothing to hide is to assume that no one should have, or could have, to hide anything -- including their immigration status, unemployment history, financial history, and health records. You're assuming that no one, including yourself, might object to revealing to anyone information about their religious beliefs, political affiliations, and sexual activities, as casually as some choose to reveal their movie and music tastes and reading preferences. -Edward Snowden, Permanent Record

People need privacy and anonymity. You might be a whistleblower exposing illegal activity by a company or government, you might be an anonymous worker organizing a union, and much more. Would you want to hand your ID over to sites solely to get the information out and face the risk of losing your job or arrest should an agency get their hands on the data? Probably not. We've already established that a handful of organizations can access this data without any warrant.

Why It Won't Stop Trolling and Harassment

Internet trolling has moved far beyond the scope of social media platforms. It does not take much more than a few Google searches to find a forum or other platform dedicated to ridiculing others. You're just going to cause these people who haven't seen these sites yet to move there. When Twitter, Facebook, and other mainstream platforms decided to take action against QAnon and other conspiracy theories, people just moved to an alternative platform such as Gab or Parler.

In short, you are just putting the harassment out of your view, pretending it doesn't exist. Platforms that are dedicated to this behavior will not be swayed by the petition if it becomes law and will go out of their way to make their behaviors worse because they get entertainment out of it. You'd be what these people describe as a "lolcow."

Sure, you might argue that reporting the websites might help in doing something but that is more of a bad idea than you think. The big dogs in this industry tend to hide behind bulletproof hosting platforms and registrars that don't care what you host. Also, be aware that any reports to a service provider or domain registrar are usually always forwarded to the operator, then they use that against you for even more harassment.

Another factor is that it is unlikely social media platforms like Twitter will require ID for citizens outside of the United Kingdom should this petition become a law. Similar to the AgeID found on porn websites as required by law, services like VPNs and proxies exist, redirecting your internet traffic to another location. What's stopping a basement troll from grabbing a VPN service to tunnel to another location and continue their trolling? Nothing. You are not going to get all nations in the world to comply with this.

I know it sounds difficult, but the best way to deal with online trolling and harassment is to ignore it. By continuing to give them attention, you are directly enabling them by giving them the satisfaction they need. You should only intervene if it has become an actual threat to your safety, such as someone showing up at your house and threatening you. In these cases, you can then file a report with the police. Filing reports to the police because someone hurt your feelings online won't get them anywhere, nor will it deliver justice. It will just continue to eat away at you.

This Harms Minors

Because minors do not possess an ID, the petition states the following: "Where the account belongs to a person under the age of 18 verify the account with the ID of a parent/guardian, to prevent anonymised harmful activity."

Do you realize the reasons why minors use social media? I along with the rest of Generation Z and Millennials grew up around social media. We use it as an escape and safe environment where we can feel accepted for who we are. In the real world, minors can face several dangers from mental and physical abuse, which often comes from their peers or parents. For this subject, we will be focusing on parents.

The United Kingdom government published a 2019 survey detailing the discrimination of LGBTQ+ people living in the country. According to the survey, at least 2 in 5 respondents had experienced an incident because they were LGBTQ+, such as verbal harassment or physical violence. This petition should it become law would require minors to submit their parents' photo ID to have a social media account. This means the parent knows their child's username, profile, and anything they post. Parents can monitor this at any time and can be outed. By doing this, it creates a great risk for LGBTQ+ youth abuse rates to skyrocket. This alone should be enough for people to say no to this petition. But yet, over 140,000 people have signed it not seeing the sheer risk this imposes on youth.

The Security Factor

You also have to bring in the security factor of websites and social media platforms. No matter how secure a platform might seem to be, these systems are designed by humans, and humans are imperfect. Just last year, Twitter employees were socially engineered into giving hackers access to their administration controls.

Think of this hack, but with this petition in law. The hackers would have access to millions of users' photo IDs, addresses, names, pictures, and more. To put this in perspective, it is enough for someone to steal an identity. Are you willing to put trust in a company to have all this information? Social media is not a bank. They don't need to know everything about you to use it.

Data breaches happen so often to the point where it is the new normal. We cannot trust social media companies to store things like a photo ID securely. All it takes is one weakness and now the information of millions is exposed and being traded on the internet black market, or even worse, made public. I'm not saying it would happen, but given that none of us are perfect, it seems like an incident waiting to happen.

Will It Pass?

And now we address the elephant in the room: will it pass and become law? Highly unlikely.

Petitions are what they say they are, petitions. They are not mandates the government has to follow. However, because of the number of signatures, this has become a topic of debate in Parliament. The date as of writing this article is to be determined.

BUT THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT IT WON'T. Like all petitions, there is a chance that exists where this can be a law. People around the world, especially in the United Kingdom, cannot get lazy and think it won't pass.

What You Can Do

If you are in the United Kingdom:

-Contact your member of parliament and alert them to this petition, reference articles, and the social media reaction to this

-Make more people aware by sharing these articles with #SaveAnonymity

-Prepare for the event where this might become law

If you are not in the United Kingdom:

-Make more people aware by sharing these articles with #SaveAnonymity

-Prepare for the event where this might become law

The best way for preparation is to invest in a VPN, or use Tor. There are many options out there, but here are the following that I have used and highly recommend checking out: - Excellent paid VPN option with a generous free model. - Excellent free VPN option. - One of the most trusted affordable VPN's

If you're also interested in learning more about privacy and security, here are some nice resources:

Thank you for reading, and stay safe.