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D2.2: Set of use cases and scenarios

Identity and Privacy in case law: On Revocable Anonymity, VUB  Title:
 Case n° 1: The Ouvaton Case



People today increasingly access the internet in order to participate in the information society. The information society offers many advantages which can not be found in the off-line world such as free chat and phone communications, immaterial distribution of entertainment goods, new services and technologies with added value, immediate and organised access to a worldwide archive of documents and information.  

The people’s access to the internet as well as to the emerging wireless environments in public and private spaces, occurs in (roughly said) two ways: Or the user willingly provides parts of his identity and other information that can be linked to his physical person, or the user does not willingly provides information relating to his real identity or to parts of it.

In the first way, people provide others, like service providers, consciously with personal data such as name, address, credit card information etc… This occurs often when people subscribe to services (like newsletters), buy goods (like plane tickets) etc… In these cases, one could say that people are in fact confronted with only one professional party in a professional and corporate environment which they trust when they give their personal information. In these situations, the personal information is not just thrown into the unknown public, but provided as a necessary part of a confidential and trusted relationship. People mostly understand that it is necessary to reveal their identity or parts of it, because the trust-relationship is needed from both sides.  

In the second way, people do not willingly or explicitly give away their identity: They act anonymously or under a pseudonym. In this case, one could say they are not confronted with a private 1-2-1 contact, but with a public in which a lot of (non-trusted) parties participate. This applies for newsfora and chatrooms but this also counts for the use of peer-2-peer software and the participation in peer-2-peer networks where any unidentified user can have access to the memory of your computer. Then, of course, people are less willing to just give away data that can relate to their identity. Also, it is not necessary to give away parts of your identity in order to participate to the service. Newsfora and chatrooms need news and chats, regardless of the origin of the words. Peer-2-peer networks just need peers, not identifiable persons. From a legal point of view, both the right to freedom of expression (in public spaces) and the right to privacy (in private spaces) are - to our opinion - almost natural expectations of the people towards the law, the government and companies.  

Now, in the second way - subject matter of this contribution - people are often identifiable or transparent anyway because they automatically leave traces such as their IP address (internet) or their location and phone number (GSM). This means that often at least one person can have the possibility to revoke the anonymity or pseudonymity that is used by a particular user. This person is most often the service provider who provides the user with access to the network. This also means that a person, having access to the information that leads to the individual person, is another person than the one willing to have the identity of the person. And last but not least, technologies creating, organising and managing your anonymity in the access to and in the communications through the almost omni-present ambient network around us, emerge with a quite fast speed…

This chapter deals with some cases relating to identity, anonymity, privacy and freedom of expression, which have been brought before a court.  Case law, which is there to solve conflicts in particular situations, applies the law and fills in how the law should be explained in particular or new situations which were not really foreseen by the lawmaker. Although the binding character of case law is a complex issue (in most jurisdictions decisions only bind the parties), it is generally a good indication of the direction the law is taking. Important cases that imply important decisions with far-going consequences are called leading or even “landmark” cases.


Identity and Privacy in case law: On Revocable Anonymity, VUB  fidis-wp2-del2.2.Cases_stories_and_Scenario_04.sxw  Case n° 1: The Ouvaton Case
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