anonymous [English]

Other Languages

Language Notes

[Draft, 2015-01-17] In the Italian juridical system an "anonymous record" is not the one whose author is unknown, but the one who didn’t sign the record, so the author didn’t take the responsibility for what they wrote. (Giovanni Michetti)

Syndetic Relationships

InterPARES Definition

adj. ~ 1. Of unknown authorship. – 2. Lacking a known name or identity. – (anonymity, n.) ~ 3. The state of being anonymous.

General Notes

In some instances, individuals may seek anonymity by consciously concealing their identity to protect themselves from retribution for their acts or expressions. In other instances, someone may protect others’ anonymity for similar reasons. For example, computer users may use a proxy server and virtual private network to mask identifying information, such as an IP address, provided by the server. Such uses are not necessarily malicious; many libraries use a proxy server to represent many, authenticated users to a service using a single identity. Anonymity is generally distinguished from pseudonymity, as the identity of an individual using a pseudonym may be commonly known; for example, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson writing as Lewis Carroll.


  • APP 2014 (†445 Chapter 2, p. 3): 2.9 Anonymity and pseudonymity are important privacy concepts. They enable individuals to exercise greater control over their personal information and decide how much personal information will be shared or revealed to others. ¶ 2.10 An individual may prefer to deal anonymously or pseudonymously with an APP [Australian Privacy Principles] entity for various reasons, including: · a preference not to be identified or to be ‘left alone’ · to avoid subsequent contact such as direct marketing from that entity or other entities · to keep their whereabouts secret from a former partner or family member · to access services (such as counselling or health services) without this becoming known to others · to express views in the public arena without being personally identified. ¶ 2.11 There can be wider benefits too: · individuals may be more likely to inquire about products and services that an APP entity provides if able to do so without being identified, meaning the community is better informed · freedom of expression is enhanced if individuals can express controversial or minority opinions without fear of reprisal · the risk of identity fraud is minimized when less personal information is collected, linked and stored by entities · an APP entity can lessen its compliance burden under the APPs by reducing the quantity of personal information it collects · client feedback may be more forthcoming and robust if individuals have the option of making an unattributed compliment or complaint to an entity. (†599)
  • Cohen 2014A (†458 ): The anonymity definition fails to indicate that it implies the inability to attribute actions to actors. Which is to say, it precludes attribution and therefore implies an inability to achieve a chain of custody, source integrity, transparency, use control, accountability, and reliability in the sense of reflection of reality. In my view, these are the fundamental properties of anonymity with regard to archives and records management and should be clearly stated as properties in the terminology database. (†648)
  • Contine 2013 (†441 ): A Northern German state’s data protection commissioner has threatened to fine Mark Zuckerberg $26,000 for Facebook allegedly violating the country’s law stating citizens may use media services anonymously. Facebook plans to “fight [the threat] vigorously”. That’s wise, as altering its real-name policy could jeopardize Facebook’s future. Prohibiting pseudonyms lets Facebook remove spammers and serve as an identity provider for the web. . . . ¶Facebook’s position would pit European law against Germany’s. The Irish Data Protection Commissioner holds that Facebook’s real name policy, which states that users cannot use a fake name to register for the service, complies with European data protection principles and Irish law. In fact, the Irish Commissioner sees the policy helps people better manage their private information securely. (†589)
  • EPIC 2014 (†442 ): A majority of Internet users feel that the medium's most valuable asset is anonymity - the ability to conceal one's identity while communicating. Users are able to post to message boards, converse in chatrooms, and visit informational sites while keeping their names and addresses private. This anonymity allows the persecuted, the underserved, and the simply embarrassed to seek information -- and disseminate it -- while maintaining their privacy and reputations in both cyberspace and the material world. ¶ Similarly, there are strong incentives for whistle-blowers to remain anonymous. For example, individuals seeking to publicize atrocities in war-torn Kosovo recently had their identities protected by an online "concealer." ¶In the past year, as the popularity of online message boards has continued to increase, the veil of anonymity increasingly has come under attack. Corporations, seeking to identify those who have voiced critical opinions about the firms' business practices, have initiated a wave of "John Doe" lawsuits seeking the identities of anonymous Internet posters. (†594)
  • EPIC 2014 (†442 ): Section 2703(c) of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) permits ISPs to disclose information on their subscribers to all non-governmental entities. While the section requires governmental entities to present subpoenas or court orders for such information, it allows ISPs to disclose subscriber information to private individuals or entities without legal authorization. This absence of protection came to the forefront in late 1997 when a Naval investigator phoned America Online, failed to identify himself as an agent of a governmental entity, and obtained the identity of an AOL user who described himself as "gay" in his one of his several AOL profiles. While AOL violated its own privacy policy by disclosing the subscriber's identity (and later settling with the subscriber), it was not clear whether there was any violation of the law. In its decision in McVeigh v. Cohen, the federal court in Washington suggested that ECPA may have been violated and ordered the Navy to discontinue its discharge proceeding against the sailor. The episode suggests that an amendment to ECPA requiring legal process for disclosure of user information to anyone is long overdue. (†595)
  • EPIC 2014 (†442 ): The decision in favor of anonymity may be motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation, by concern about social ostracism, or merely by a desire to preserve as much of one's privacy as possible. . . . ¶Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation -- and their ideas from suppression -- at the hand of an intolerant society." — [Citing McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission, 514 U.S. 334 (1995)]. (†593)
  • Holpuch 2015 (†622 ): The “real name” policy has been criticized for years, but Facebook defends it by saying it is an important tool to ensure users are not anonymous, which it believes protects people from abuse. (†1413)
  • ISACA Glossary (†743 s.v. anonymity): The quality or state of not being named or identified. (†1758)
  • Matthews 2010 (†606 p.351): We will take anonymity to be representative of a suite of techniques of nonidentifiability that persons use to manage and protect their privacy. At the core of these techniques is the aim of being untrackable; this means that others lack the information they would need either to intrude physically upon me or to discover some private facts about me. Anonymity often enough goes together with privacy, but not always. ...Anonymity and other techniques of nonidentifiability function as the gatekeepers of the boundary between our private selves and the public domain, and for that reason they are important to the control we have over others' perceptions of, and beliefs about us. (†1397)
  • Nissenbaum 1999 (†607 p.142-143): In the computerized world, with the systems of information that we currently have in place, namelessness by itself is no longer sufficient for protecting what is at stake in anonymity. If it is true, as I have suggested, that one can gain access to a person through bits, or constellations of bits, of information, then protecting anonymity today amounts to more than merely withholding a name. It means withholding the information or constellation of information it now takes to get at, or get to, a person. When we think of protecting anonymity we must think about this broader range of possibilities; we must think not only of how a person can prevent his or her name from being divulged, but how a person can prevent all the crucial bits of information from being divulged, especially the bits of information that when divulged would enable access to him or her. (†1398)
  • RFC 4949 (†591 s.v. "anonymity"): Tutorial: An application may require security services that maintain anonymity of users or other system entities, perhaps to preserve their privacy or hide them from attack. To hide an entity’s real name, an alias may be used; for example, a financial institution may assign account numbers. Parties to transactions can thus remain relatively anonymous, but can also accept the transactions as legitimate. Real names of the parties cannot be easily determined by observers of the transactions, but an authorized third party may be able to map an alias to a real name, such as by presenting the institution with a court order. In other applications, anonymous entities may be completely untraceable. (†1368)
  • Wallace 1999 (†605 p.34): Anonymity defined as noncoordinatability of traits in a given respect is a conceptual or metaphysical definition. is a form of nonidentifiability, moving us beyond thinking of anonymity as having primarily to do with names. Rather, the concept is, or has become, more general. (†1396)
  • Wikipedia (†387 s.v. "anonymity"): Derived from the Greek word ἀνωνυμία, anonymia, meaning "without a name" or "namelessness". In colloquial use, "anonymous" is used to describe situations where the acting person's name is unknown. ¶ The most important example for anonymity being not only protected, but enforced by law is probably the vote in free elections. In many other situations (like conversation between strangers, buying some product or service in a shop), anonymity is traditionally accepted as natural. There are also various situations in which a person might choose to withhold their identity. Acts of charity have been performed anonymously when benefactors do not wish to be acknowledged. A person who feels threatened might attempt to mitigate that threat through anonymity. A witness to a crime might seek to avoid retribution, for example, by anonymously calling a crime tipline. Criminals might proceed anonymously to conceal their participation in a crime. Anonymity may also be created unintentionally, through the loss of identifying information due to the passage of time or a destructive event. (†591)
  • Wikipedia (†387 s.v. "anonymity"): Derived from the Greek word ἀνωνυμία, meaning "without a name" or "namelessness." In colloquial use, "anonymous" is used to describe situations where the acting person's name is unknown. Some writers have argued that namelessness, though technically correct, does not capture what is more centrally at stake in contexts of anonymity. The important idea here is that a person be non-identifiable, unreachable, or untrackable.[Wallace, 1999; Nissenbaum, 1999; Matthews, 2010] Anonymity is seen as a technique, or a way of realizing, certain other values, such as privacy, or liberty. (†1284)
  • Wikipedia (†387 s.v. "anonymity"): Most commentary on the Internet is essentially done anonymously, using unidentifiable pseudonyms. While these usernames can take on an identity of their own, they are frequently separated and anonymous from the actual author. According to the University of Stockholm this is creating more freedom of expression, and less accountability. (†592)