When I told Maria about the plot of a short story I was writing, she urged me to drop the whole thing. She feels the idea behind it is too dangerous.
It’s true, the story does put forth a dangerous idea. But sooner or later this idea will occur to someone with bad intentions, and if they act on it, the results could be disastrous. I feel that the best thing to do with this is to share it, so others can be on guard against its effects.
The story’s based on the dangerous combination of anonymous solicitation and anonymous payment, which has become a clear reality. In my view it has already fostered an increase in criminal activity.
In the story, people in a fictitious state or province get an anonymous message suggesting that they participate in a plan to kill the beneficiaries of public pensions. Taxpayers are encouraged to contribute, anonymously, via cryptocurrency, to an escrow fund to be used to pay for the hits. Subsequently, each time someone produces evidence (anonymously, of course) that they have, er, removed a pensioner from the rolls, the contributors vote – anonymously – on whether the claim is legitimate. The originator of the first offer serves as moderator and disbursement officer. Result: taxes to pay for pension obligations go down, more money becomes available for schools, police, infrastructure.
That scheme represents one of many ways that anonymous solicitation and anonymous payment can and will be used by criminals to make their job more profitable and less risky. I believe that already, anonymous cryptocurrency payments are behind an increase in human trafficking and other crimes.
Blockchain is powerful technology – just as nuclear fission is powerful technology. As with nuclear fission, it’s important to find a way to prevent it from being used for evil purposes. In this case that means preventing blockchain from being used to facilitate totally anonymous solicitation and payments. See https://accountable-blockchain.osmio.ch/ .
And in fact we have that means. It’s called Accountable Anonymity.
The first implementation of Accountable Anonymity was invented in 1901 by Henry Lee Higginson. It’s the license plate. Anyone can see your car’s license plate, making you accountable for what happens on public roadways – but no one gets to know the identity of the driver or owner unless there’s been an accident.
Accountable Anonymity is imperfect when it comes to cars, but in the digital world something called PKIDR can make Accountable Anonymity really work.
Before I go into the details, let me quote Lawrence Lundy-Bryan, who noted that “There is no such thing as decentralized governance.” Many of my colleagues in the decentralized identity community find that notion controversial and even disagreeable, but it’s true. The key is that governance must be participatory and open, which, fortunately, PKIDR also enables.
With PKIDR, or for that matter with blockchain, your phone or computer generates pairs of mathematically related very large numbers. Of each number pair, one is designated “public,” while the other one is kept secret, buried inside your device. In a properly designed system the secret number never leaves your device.
Also in a properly designed system, each person gets many such pairs of numbers. You can use any one of the secret numbers in your number pairs to digitally sign anything, including an anonymous request for someone to do something, or to make an anonymous payment. In a totally anonymous system such as a blockchain you can hire and pay a hitperson or offer your services as a hitperson or run your human trafficking operation in the safety of pure anonymity.
But let’s say you prefer to participate in an online community that provides Accountable Anonymity, where there’s recourse if someone breaks the law, or libels or slanders your good name in public, or blackmails you by threatening to publish private photos of you, or defrauds you.
Remember all those pairs of numbers your phone generated? In a community that supports Accountable Anonymity, the community’s vital records department (yes, centralized, participatory authority) turns each of your public numbers into a digital certificate. One of those certificates becomes your “foundational” certificate. Like your birth certificate, your foundational certificate has actual identifying information in it. As with your paper birth certificate, you use it only as a "breeder" certificate with which to generate other "utility" certificates, which you use for authentication, signing, encryption key management, etc. The “utility” certificates can have little or no information in them - so you become accountably anonymous.
You can sign things anonymously with the private number of any of your dozens of utility certificates, each representing a different version of you, a different persona. But if someone gets a court order that compels the disclosure of your identity, the vital records department can look up your digital birth certificate (foundational certificate) and disclose your name and other information (PII) to the person named in the court order.
Everyone wants privacy for themselves, and everyone wants accountability from others. Learn how we can have both by going to https://join.osmio.ch/
UPDATE from Wired article ‘If You Want to Kill Someone, We Are the Right Guys’
"The enticing anonymity of the dark web that nurtured Stephen's crime had given him a sense of omnipotence. He failed to appreciate that this cloak of power didn't follow him to the clear web and to the real world."