Abstract - The Information Society 15(2)

The Meaning of Anonymity in an Information Age

Helen Nissenbaum

Should anonymity be protected in electronic interactions and communications? Would this be a good thing for community, responsibility, free expression, political participation, and personal fulfillment? If so, when and why? These key normative questions probe the value of anonymity in our computerized society and political order. In this brief discussion, I will not directly address these important questions but will address questions that undergird them about the meaning of anonymity in a contemporary, computerized society, including: What is anonymity? And, what are we seeking to protect when we propose to protect it? Although answers to these foundational questions will not immediately yield answers to the key normative questions mentioned above, they are essential to understanding what is at stake in the answers to these questions. For, after all is said and done, we would not want to discover that the thing we have fought so hard to protect was not worth protecting after all.

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