Civil liberties group slams Internet ID proposal

A proposal to make it as difficult for Australians to open an Internet account as to open a bank account has drawn stinging criticism from online civil liberties group Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA).

The proposal, which was put to a parliamentary commission on preventing cybercrime in July, would require anyone wanting to open an Internet account in Australia to produce 100 points of identity documentation, on a scale where a birth certificate or passport rates as 70 points.

"The outcome (of the ID requirement) would be that criminals could have more privacy than law-abiding Internet users," EFA said in a supplementary submission to the commission. "Criminals would use false identity documents to obtain Internet access accounts.

"Alternatively, they may identify themselves to the ISP (Internet service provider) to gain Internet access, and then use free or commercially available anonymizing services which make it extremely difficult, in some instances impossible, to trace their activities back to the ISP who provides their Internet access account."

EFA also pointed out that evidence given to the commission that France had introduced a 100-point identity scheme for Internet access was false.

"We advise that such a requirement has not been enacted in France, nor was such a requirement introduced into the French parliament," EFA wrote.

Under France's Liberty of Communication Act, Web content providers must provide identification to ISPs who will host their material, but the law does not apply to people using the Internet to access e-mail, the Web, chat or bulletin boards.

Another proposal submitted was to ban the use of free e-mail suppliers such as Hotmail or Yahoo on the grounds that they potentially offer too much anonymity for cyber criminals.

"Doing away with free e-mail accounts, even if that was globally feasible, would not make any difference to the ability of (law enforcement agencies) LEAs to identify the user of the free e-mail account," EFA said in its submission. "The issue for LEAs is not whether an e-mail account is free, it is whether the sender of an e-mail can be identified.

"There is a widely held misperception that users of free e-mail accounts such as those provided by Hotmail are anonymous."

The desire to regulate Internet access in Australia is being driven by several concerns -- a spate of attempted frauds using fake bank Web sites, intolerable levels of spam flooding e-mail inboxes, concerns about Internet-based gambling and the spread of frauds such as lottery scams, car auction/fake check scams and the ubiquitous Nigerian 419, or advance fee, scam.

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