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The Challenges of Online Anonymity for the Digital Forensic Examiners: Investigating the Dark Web

Online anonymity has become a serious challenge for the digital forensic investigators. This problem has been growing for the past few years given the increased number of the Internet users who suspect that they are being tracked over the World Wide Web by some malicious individuals, groups, advertising agencies, corporations, or government agencies. The immensity of this problem can be depicted by the emergence of anonymizing services such as The Onion Router. Online anonymity, therefore, can be defined as the inability of the Internet user to identify the real author of the message being communicated through the online platform. It means that the identity of the Internet users is protected from being discovered by a third party (Palme, & Berglund, 2004). This research paper clearly explains the problem of online anonymity and how it is a challenge for the modern society. The paper goes further and highlights the close relationship between the online anonymity issues and the criminal law, as well as gives possible solutions that the policy makers and Internet users can use to mitigate the problem. Moreover, it assesses the current measures employed for addressing the problem with a view of giving possible alternative solutions.

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The Problem of Online Anonymity

The dark web is used by a number of malicious individuals/ groups as a support and medium of exchanging the information and media. The web poses a big challenge due to its growth in scope and size especially in 2013 (Lattanzio, 2014). The dark net creates a location where the extreme activities usually take place. The issue of online anonymity can arise in various ways. The most common form of online anonymity is pseudonymity. In this aspect, the real name of the author of a message is concealed while an individual usually pretends to be someone else. Another form of online anonymity is secure billing; it is a legal practice used worldwide. Online merchants have developed the user privacy policies that bar them from sharing personal information of the buyers. In such a manner, eBay has the member-member contacts and third party disclosure limitations; it also safeguards the users’ IDs (EBay, 2014).

Moreover, there is a practice of anonymous networking and flirting whereby the Internet users anonymously interact with other users without having to disclose their personal data. It is commonly practiced by sites such as Chatroulette, LikeALittle, and Omegle commonly used by kids and teens (Gaggle.Net, Inc., 2014). This mode of communication poses a challenge since the anonymous users can defraud others, use abusive language, and share inappropriate content being nor afraid of any punishment. The most significant form of online anonymity is anonymous posting on the social networking websites and blogs. This practice is rather popular; it is usually characterized by posting inappropriate content such as explicit images, as well as using hate or abusive language. The digital forensic examiners have difficulties in identifying the users who comment anonymously on Tumblr, Twitter, or Facebook. This problem has witnessed the establishment of the forensic investigation labs by big security agencies for collecting and analyzing digital evidence that is stored in mobile devices, personal computers, and smartphones (Lattanzio, 2014).

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Online Anonymity and the Course of Criminal Law

The online anonymity poses many legal issues due to its association with the dark web. Specifically, the problem raises questions concerning criminal justice and forensics. The dark web is usually characterized by sharing child pornography and indecent exposure; this behavior breaches a number of laws such as Criminal Code of China and Federal Sentencing Guidelines of the US. The online anonymity providers such as The Onion Router (TOR) service are illegal in some countries. In the UK, such services are illegal as they breach the Data Protection Act and user safety regulations. In strict legal regimes such as the People’s Republic of China, the online anonymity is banned requiring the website owners to ensure the full user information disclosure.

In other jurisdictions, the topic of online anonymity directly relates to the civil law in terms of how it affects the relationship amongst people. Concealing the network activity and user identity over the Internet, which is the main feature of online anonymity, directly affects the procedural laws set by a given country. In such a manner, the users are affected by several state and federal laws relating to the information usage and online behaviors. For instance, TOR’s Silk Road was shut down by the FBI in 2013 after the discovery that it allowed for the sale of illegal items such as drugs through the Internet (Taylor, 2013). These legal challenges make online anonymity a case of criminal law investigation.

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Existing Measures to Address Online Anonymity and the Dark Web

TheInternet anonymity can be used with both bad and good intentions. Various countries worldwide have designed the measures aiming at controlling, forbidding, or protecting anonymity. The most popular measures can be studied from the Internet regulations adopted by the People’s Republic of China. These measures have been termed unconstitutional and oppressive by the human rights activists as they are aimed at eliminating any political dissent. The Chinese government, for example, enacted a law to strengthen the protection of online information in December 2012 (Villarreal, 2013). This legal requirement made it compulsory for all online users to register their full personal details including their full names, in order to use any online media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, or blogs. The law also mandated all telecommunication corporations and Internet service providers to collect their customers’ personal information and disseminate it to the state. It was an unprecedented step towards the complete elimination of the online anonymity groups.

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