There are growing calls to end internet anonymity in the wake of Sir David Amess’s death. The Tory MP Mark Francois argued in the Commons this week for a ‘David’s law’ to do this, to try and bring back civility into politics. Today, Matt Hancock and the Labour MP Rupa Huq have stated that the Online Harms Bill should tackle ‘anonymous abuse’. But outlawing internet anonymity would be a mistake. Two members of parliament have been killed in the past five years. This, one long-serving MP laments, is the kind of statistic you would expect in a failing state, as I write in the magazine this week.
At the moment, many MPs — even some who are normally quite libertarian — are sympathetic to ‘David’s law’. This is quite an understandable reaction given the abuse they receive from anonymous accounts on social media, but there are risks to ending anonymity. Many MPs argue that a person should be able to use social media accounts under a pseudonym but that the platform should keep a private record of who that person is. The problem with this approach is that any database of who is linked to what account could be hacked. The rocketing levels of online banking fraud are a reminder of how difficult it is to achieve failsafe online security.
Then there is the question of whistleblowers. Genuine anonymity makes it far easier for people to alert others to malpractice in their own organisation. There is an international consideration too: if Britain were to ban online anonymity, the precedent would be seized on by repressive regimes around the world to justify their actions.