Member of the Board of the Polish Linux Users Group. Human rights in digital era hacktivist, Free Software advocate, privacy and anonimity evangelist; expert volunteer to the Panoptykon Foundation; co-organizer of SocHack social hackathons; charter member of the Warsaw Hackerspace; and Telecomix co-operator; biker, sailor.

Formerly President of the Board of the Polish Free and Open Source Software Foundation; CTO of BRAMA Mobile Technologies Laboratory on Warsaw University of Technology and a student at Philosophy Institute on Warsaw University.

Table of Contents

02.07.2016Dzień, w którym cenzura Sieci w Polsce stała się faktem pl 152 13.04.2015Needless haystacks en 151 12.03.2015e-Dockleracje pl 150 19.01.2015Ban on encryption is not about banning encryption en 149 13.01.2015Not Free as in Beer en pl 148 30.12.2014GPG Key Transition en pl 147 18.12.2014Siła wyższa pl 146 04.12.2014Internet in Poland to be porn-free after all? en pl 145 27.11.2014Block everything! en pl 144 02.11.2014Introducing: rysiek's law of unavoidable consequences en pl 143 09.09.2014Stop paedophilia en pl 142 22.06.2014Even with EME, Mozilla will become "the browser that can't" en 141 21.06.2014EuroDIG 2014 en pl 140 19.06.2014Hacker in the Digital Affairs Council en pl 139 30.05.2014Public consultations and anonymity en pl 138 18.05.2014Why being a pirate is not worth it en pl 137 15.05.2014On Mozilla, DRM and irrelevance en pl 136 14.05.2014Not-quite-good-enough-Mundial en 135 12.04.2014Irresponsible non-disclosure en pl 134 29.03.2014Ecologic, Ford and surveillance en pl 133 15.03.2014Otwórzmy edukację pl 132 10.03.2014Blurry line between private service and public infrastructure en 131 08.03.2014IM IN UR MINISTRY, CONSULTING UR INTERNETZ en pl 130 17.02.2014Encrypted VoIP that works en pl 129 11.02.2014So you want to censor the Internet... en pl 128 02.02.2014This is why we can't have nice IRC en 127 31.01.2014Decentralize where your mouth is en pl 126 30.01.2014A link cannot be illegal en pl 125 30.01.2014Copyright reform debate lives on en pl 124 26.01.2014Neat HaCSS, or let's de-JS the Web a bit en 123 27.12.2013Information Account Number en 122 14.12.2013HaIPu en 121 20.11.2013Friends of TTIP and data protection in Brussels en 120 19.11.2013Social media, Polish Pirates style en pl 119 05.11.2013A rude comment en 118 20.10.2013TEDx Warsaw Women and privacy en pl 117 03.10.2013Copyreform at CopyCamp 2013 en pl 116 22.09.2013Long-expected KMail2 rant en 115 18.09.2013Facebook for schools en 114 12.09.2013In which I call upon United Poland parliamentarians to guarantee citizens the right to Internet free of surveillance en pl 113 08.09.2013Complaintivism en 112 04.09.2013It's his own fault en pl 111 19.08.2013Lies, damn lies, and analytics en pl 110 27.07.2013Shortest Internet censorship debate ever en pl 109 22.07.2013How information sharing uproots conservative business models en es 108 22.07.2013Posts' markup is now available en pl 107 11.07.2013Kultura wolna i legalna pl 106 07.06.2013Internet is not a problem en pl 105 05.06.2013Libel Culture en 104 17.05.2013Wojtuś Fatalista i wolność w Internecie pl 102 17.05.2013Why I find -ND unnecessary and harmful en es pl 101 28.03.2013Wolność nasza codzienna pl 100 17.03.2013Nie wszystko korpo co o wolności w Internecie pl 99 15.03.2013♫ Odpowiadam na e-maile ♫ pl 98 11.02.2013One year anniversary of Anti-ACTA en pl 97 30.01.2013Nie ma haka na słabe dziennikarstwo? pl 96 30.01.2013Fighting Black PR around OER en pl 95 29.01.2013HOWTO: effectively argue against Internet censorship ideas en pl 94 20.11.2012Border conditions for preserving subjectivity in the digital era en pl 93 19.11.2012Social blogosphere en pl 92 07.11.2012Embrace fragmentation en pl 91 02.11.2012SERVICES.TXT en pl 90 24.10.2012Apple finally jumped the shark en es 89 24.09.2012Breaking the garden walls en es pl 88 24.09.2012Minister i Kultura pl 87 24.09.2012Melbourne CryptoParty video message en 86 16.09.2012On sailor's sensitivity, or "the starry heavens above me" en pl 85 22.08.2012Black PR around Polish e-Textbooks en pl 84 15.08.2012Regaty utracone pl 83 24.07.2012Hypochristian Love en 82 24.07.2012Some new Layout Goodness en pl 81 17.07.2012Party 2.0 en pl 80 16.07.2012Prawo autorskie po ACTA pl 79 13.07.2012Party as a system hack en pl 78 10.06.2012Are corporations dangerous only in collusion with governments? en 77 09.06.2012Proxies! Proxies everywhere! en 76 05.06.2012Automagic re-publishing from Twitter to StatusNet en pl 75 18.05.2012TPSA/Orange and GIMP, or a word on 5 users en pl 74 16.05.2012Słowo o Warsztatach MAiC pl 73 15.04.2012Schowaj gadżeta pl 72 05.04.2012Perfect ToDo-oid en 71 27.03.2012Subjectively on Anti-ACTA in Poland en pl 70 25.03.2012On copyright in Budapest en pl 69 23.03.2012Kościoła poczucie odpowiedzialności pl 68 20.03.2012Learning to Internet en pl 67 19.03.2012Kościoła wiara w wiernych pl 66 29.02.2012Brussels Safari #1 - EP press conference and ITRE en pl 65 21.02.2012Because ACTA is passé en pl 64 20.02.2012Privacy of correspondence, EU-style en pl 63 17.02.2012Polish PM on ACTA: I was wrong en pl 62 12.02.2012Anonymous vs Corponymous en pl 61 10.02.2012To have a cookie and dowload it too en pl 60 19.01.2012About ACTA at Polish PM Chancellery en pl 59 19.01.2012Free as in United en pl 58 16.01.2012Towarzystwo czuje się oszukane pl 57 10.01.2012Terms of Using the Service en pl 56 05.01.2012Corporate lack of patriotism en pl 55 04.01.2012Terroristcopters en pl 54 03.01.2012IceWeasel and Privacy en pl 53 28.12.2011Good Uncle Stal... Putin en pl 52 25.12.2011Useful Bash defaults done right en 51 21.12.2011Google Mail, or how mail becomes publication en pl 50 20.12.2011Occupy Gotham en pl 49 11.12.2011Copyfraud en pl 48 08.12.2011Multikino Wikipedia FAIL pl 47 27.11.2011Nie miejsce na pl 46 18.11.2011One-way cutting en pl 45 12.11.2011Tolerancja dla Kościoła pl 44 11.11.2011Users and Citizens en pl 43 30.10.2011Adhocracy and Net4Change en pl 42 18.10.2011War on Fun en pl 41 16.10.2011Boli mnie w krzyżu pl 40 14.10.2011Technocomplacency en pl 39 10.10.2011I Can Haz? pl 37 09.10.2011Election Silence in Poland en pl 38 03.10.2011Kibice i kampania pl 36 02.10.2011E-textbooks, Johnny Mnemonic, business and the Net en pl 35 19.09.2011CC Global Streaming/Summit/Party pl 33 19.09.2011Czy jest coś takiego jak darmowe śniadanie? pl 34 12.09.2011Faktycznie Super pl 32 12.09.2011Diaspora-Based Comment System en 31 11.09.2011Conflict of values en pl 30 06.09.2011Wolność słowa to nie wolność od myślenia ani od krytyki pl 29 06.09.2011On-line privacy and anonymity: case in point en pl 28 04.09.2011On being careful with words en pl 27 03.09.2011W obronie QR Code pl 26 31.08.2011Stolica Nie Tak Święta pl 25 29.08.2011Of malware, hot steam, privacy, using one's brain and paedoparanoia en 24 29.08.2011Kragen Thinking Out Loud en pl 23 18.08.2011Ból, blizny, dziewczyny i wiosła pl 22 07.08.2011Worst. Woodstock. Ever! pl 21 27.07.2011Willpower, productivity and cycling en pl 20 19.07.2011Neo FreeRunner as a WiFi Soundcard en 19 10.07.2011A Weekend with lawyers en pl 18 09.07.2011One step closer to ideal en pl 17 04.07.2011Apostasy in Poland en pl 16 28.06.2011YAFR (Yet Another Facebook Rant) en pl 15 19.06.2011Wiara w priorytety pl 14 17.06.2011Important meetings, fun meetings en pl 13 13.06.2011Ooops I en pl 12 30.05.2011Playing with Node.js en pl 11 25.05.2011Mozilla, Google and the Location Bar en pl 10 24.05.2011At Sector 3.0 conf en pl 9 23.05.2011Layout, CSS and RSS/Atom en pl 8 15.05.2011Startup Weekend Network Fun Fun Fun en 7 11.05.2011Nowy szef Bramy pl 6 10.05.2011World's Smallest Open Source Violin en pl 5 10.05.2011Po kolejnym spotkaniu w KPRM pl 4 08.05.2011Inspiracja na niedzielę pl 3 08.05.2011I horizontally the whole blog is that serious pl 2 07.05.2011I can has brag en pl 1

Stop paedophilia

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Yet again we are implored to "think of the children" by more than 250 000 supporters of a bill proposed in Poland that would put a 2-year prison penalty on...

...whoever publicly promotes or condones undertaking sexual activities by minors of less than 15 years of age, or supplies them with materials facilitating such activities.

Yes, you are reading this right. Two years in jail for giving a teen child a condom just in case, or informing them where kids come from. I won't even mention the filth called "sex-ed classes"! Yes, this also pertains to parents. What should a parent say when a child comes and asks how did their little sister get inside mummy? "Go ask the good reverend", I guess.

Of course there's a question of how the "pro-family" organisations that promote this enlightened idea reconcile their "pro-familiness" with the fact that such a law would have a great potential for breaking families apart, but I'll leave that one for the Dear Reader to ponder. Also, while I find hate speech laws to be a bit problematic, as long as we have them on the books, how about somebody look into how these people identify paedophilia with not being heteronormative, eh?

Live by the sword...

I'll leave dealing with the cranial rectal syndrome that makes people propose banning the best weapon we have against paedophiles (education) because they are afraid of paedophiles to those better suited for the task. Something else interests me in this situation.

For years I have taken part in many meetings concerning proposed Internet censorship measures. Each and every time "the paedophile argument" was one of the big guns in the proposers' arsenal. One of the organisations that used to propose such measures (and use such arguments), today went through the looking-glass:

We are convinced that the changes proposed will not amount to effective tools against paedophilia. The project aims to ban educating children and youth about human sexuality, which equips them with knowledge required to notice threats, maintain own integrity and look for help
It is hard to fathom that in the 21st Century it is still possible to propose criminal penalties for supplying children with knowledge about their development and the nature of sexual relations, and to lump custodians, teachers and educators providing such education with paedophiles

While I do find it a bit surprising, today I have to agree wholeheartedly with the President of Fundacja Dzieci Niczyje.

Even with EME, Mozilla will become "the browser that can't"

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During the weeks since Mozilla's DRM-embracing decision to include EME there were quite a few voices defending Mozilla's decision. Most of the serious defence basically boils down to: we had to; without EME/DRM support Mozilla would be the browser that can't play video, and users would turn to other browsers which would jeopardize our work for freedom and open Internet in other areas.

As I have written before users already have little reason to stay with Firefox, and the strongest selling point for many of users still on Firefox has for a longest time been: that's the freedom preserving browser. With EME/DRM in Firefox, this reason is moot.

What's tragic is that even with EME/DRM inside, which already cost Firefox some users from the freedom crowd (and inspired at least one fork, of course), Firefox is bound to also lose in the less freedom-centred crowd.

Think about it for just a short while. The whole basic idea of DRM is flawed beyond repair — software that has to make some content available to a user (to be viewed, for example), and simultaneously make the same content not available to the same user (so that it's not possible to copy it).

This scheme has serious problems working even in closed-source, black-box software (sometimes even fails hilariously). How is it supposed to work in an open-source browser?

Let's ponder a scenario, shall we?

1. Mozilla implements EME in Firefox

...and has DRM solution suppliers (like Adobe) write DRM plugins for Firefox. That's where we're at today.

2. Firefox now has to have some sort of protection of the decoded media stream

...so that it's only available to the browser itself (to display to the user), but not the extensions — otherwise get ready for an extension that grabs the decoded media stream and saves it to disk (completely side-stepping any DRM) in 3... 2... 1...

3. May the forks be with you!

Say, how about a fork that removes this very protection of the decoded media stream, but leaves in-place the rest of the EME/DRM infrastructure? Somebody is bound to do it. At this point DRM/EME is completely side-stepped in this Firefox fork.

One of the defenders of Mozilla's EME/DRM decision, Ben Moskovitz, remarks:

enabling users to do more is a feature.

Being able to save the media stream to disk sounds to me like enabling users to do more. Let us guess, then, which Firefox version will now become more and more popular, eh?

4. Hollywood and DRM providers get wind of the fork

Is there anything Mozilla can do to plug this hole? Not as long as the code is open and free-as-in-freedom! Ah, well, Hollywood won't have any of that hippie bullshit, so they push DRM providers to remove support for Firefox (and its forks).

5. Game over

Mozilla lands with EME infrastructure and no DRM providers willing to write a plugin using it (as it would jeopardize their relationship with Hollywood), freesofties have already long moved to some more freedom-preserving browser, and regular users move to any browser that has DRM plugins for its EME infrastructure. You know, the closed-source ones.

After all, why would they stay on "a browser that can't"?

EuroDIG 2014

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Another day, another conference on Internet governance, this time close enough to go there on my own dime. Besides, Berlin is always a treat.

As was to be expected of a conference organised in ministerial halls, for the most part when it wasn't objectionable, it was mind-boggingly dull. And yes, WiFi was as good as it gets on such events.

I have a strong policy of going to conferences mainly for the hallway/coffee chit-chat and making new acquaintances, and it was a winner this time around too.

Off for a "good" start

Starting off with a welcoming address by the powers that be, including Neelie Kroes, who deemed the conference so important, she made a video appearance (how about we agree on a rule that when you're a politician wanting to have a point in a conference agenda, you can either come in person, or... pass entirely; no pre-recorded videos, please!), the conference gave no hope for anything of significance to happen within the confines of the programme.

Thankfully, you can always count on activists to bring the gravitas along. And while having Edward Snowden in the panel (or as a keynote speaker) would be the right thing to do, several Edwards Snowdens in the audience were the next best thing.

Multistakeholderism meets gender equality

The first panel focused on lessons learned from NETmundial, and made a good first impression with no chair available for the only female panelist. Were there any civil society participants to the panel? Of course not. Questions from the floor about that fact (asked by the undersigned) and about the glaring gender disproportion in the panel (asked by Mrs. O'Loughlin of Council of Europe) were waved-off as "off-topic".

Representative of the organisers also remarked on how hard it was to find women for the panel. They tried, they just couldn't find any on the right positions.

Let's ponder about this for just a moment, even though I don't even know where to start.

I could say, for instance, that equality (gender, and otherwise) was a big issue on NETmundial, as evidenced in the opening address by Nnenna Nwakanma. I could refer you, Dear Reader, to the concepts like glass ceiling, and note how this is no excuse for not including women in the panel on equal standing. I could, as I have in my question, note the irony of a panel about lessons from NETmundial (y'know, the multistakeholder conference on Internet governance) comprising almost entirely of men, and with no representative of the third sector.

Or I could point out, that including civil society in the panel might have made it easier for the organisers to find female panelists, as while the glass ceiling is indubitably also sadly present in civil society, it doesn't seem to be as prevalent as in government and business sectors.

Here's a simple exercise: make your own suggestions of female panelists. I have my own shortlist, of course.

Sudden outbreak of relevancy

However, there is always hope. The "When the public sphere became private" workshop proved to be both inspiring and interesting, and the exchange of ideas relevant and much deeper than I would have expected.

It did help that the topic sounded eerily familiar, but the discussion went far and wide, touching on a number of related issues.

Private vs. privately-owned

There was an important distinction that had to be made, as became apparent in the course of the discussion, between two meanings of the word "private", in the context of communication infrastructures.

First meaning being "pertaining to or supportive of privacy". Here, private communication medium would mean a communication medium that ensures the privacy of the communication between communicating parties.

The second one is, of course, "privately-owned", with private communication medium meaning a medium owned by a private entity.

Obviously, similar distinction has to be made for the word "public" in the same context.

With this in mind it's easy to see how crucial misunderstandings can arise when using these terms without making clear which of the particular meanings we have in mind. Specifically, privately-owned infrastructure can be (and often is) hostile towards privacy of the communicating parties.

Public sphere in private infrastructure

When the whole infrastructure is privately-owned, privacy is not the only problem. Public sphere is crucial to democratic processes, but today it is more and more being replaced by privately-owned and controlled fora. Public discourse should not, however, be contingent on rules made unilaterally by private entities. Or, as one of the workshop panelists neatly put it:

Public agora cannot underlie a business model based on surveillance

As always, the first step is admitting that we do have a problem, and I take it we are getting ready for such an admission. Finally. But what's really interesting is the next step — what should we do about it? There is, unfortunately, no clear answer, but several ideas have been floated.

One of these is open standards, or making the operators of such privately-owned fora to at least supply APIs allowing full interoperability between different providers (think Facebook interoperating with Google+). Another (crazy, I give you that!) idea — floated by a friend of mine some time ago — is to have source code of all software available at least for inspection, just like ingredients listing on packaged food.

Yet another would be mandating privacy impact assessment on all lawmaking activities, and on infrastructural decisions made (for instance) on governmental levels.

Finally, there was this gem:

Governments need to pass human rights as technical requirements

That's something that really got my attention, as for some time now I am pondering that we — the technical community, geeks, free-softies, etc. — should start making software with the assumption that if some abuse is possible, it is inevitable. And start designing our software for privacy just as we design it for security. I'll elaborate on that in a separate post.

All of these need further thought and consideration; some might turn out workable, some might turn out impossible, and some combination of them might be the right way to proceed.

But the right questions are apparently finally being asked. Not holding my breath, but maybe next time we're even able to find some less locked-down solution instead of a Twitter wall to bring in the remote participation...

Hacker in the Digital Affairs Council

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It's official — I have been confirmed as a member of the Digital Affairs Council to the Minister of Administration and Digital Affairs. I was recommended by Internet Society Poland and Polish Linux Users Group.

What is the Digital Affairs Council anyway?

the Council is "minister's advisory and consultative body" (as described in art.17 of the informatisation law). That means that on one hand it doesn't really get to make direct decisions; on the other, however, Council's recommendations will carry certain weight (at least, that's the theory).

The Council is an evolution of the Informatisation Council, operating since 2005. Several members of the current Council had been involved in that previous installment.

According to the law, the Council will propose and opine projects of statements (among others, by the Council of Ministers), documents, development strategies, program projects and reports in the areas of informatisation, communications, information society development and rules regarding the functioning of public registers, rules and state of introducing ICT systems in public administration, and even Polish ICT terminology. And...

The Council can initiate activities related to informatisation, ICT market development, and development of information society.

The Council today has 20 members, representing administration, NGOs, technical organisations and business. What recommendations will the Council produce and which direction will it lean? How will the practicalities of its operation look like? Hard to say today. But the possibilities seem quite interesting.

Who's in the Council?

I have had the pleasure of meeting several members of the Council on different occasions; not all of them, unfortunately. The ones I know paint an interesting picture.

  • Igor Ostrowski — Council Chairman; lawyer, Vice-Minister of Administration and Digital Affairs during anti-ACTA protests, before that a member of the Prime Minister's Strategic Advisors Team; such a choice can only please, especially all "opennists" and privacy advocates out there.
  • Joanna Berdzik — Vice-Minister of Education, engaged in the Digital School project (including the Open Textbooks programme).
  • Dominik Skoczek — lawyer, represents the Polish Film-makers' Association; during anti-ACTA protests he was the head of the Intellectual Property and Media Department in the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, and responsible for the ACTA process; copyright maximalist, claiming that copyright reform proponents are only in it for "gratis access for users".
  • Anna Streżyńska — well-known in Poland for her activities while presiding over the Office of Electronic Communications and successful fight against the Polish telco monopolist.
  • Katarzyna Szymielewicz — President and co-founder of the Panoptykon Foundation, unrelenting activist for privacy, freedom and personal autonomy in the times of pervasive surveillance.
  • Alek Tarkowski — "opennist", Polish Creative Commons chapter co-ordinator, director of the Digital Centre; previously, with Igor Ostrowski, a member of the Prime Minister's Strategic Advisors Team.
  • Elżbieta Traple — law professor, copyright law expert; during the post-ACTA Ministry of Administration and Digital Affairs workshops she proposed changes to Polish copyright law reaffirming fair use in the digital domain.
  • Jarosław Tworóg — Vice-President of the Board of the National Chamber of Electronics and Telecommunication; I've had the pleasure of taking part in several public consultation meetings along with Mr. Tworóg; expert in the area of electronics and telecommunication.
  • Agata Wacławik-Wejman — co-founder and Member of the Board of the Institute of Law and Society, policy counsel at Google.
  • Piotr VaGla Waglowski — operator of prawo.vagla.pl website, lawyer, activist, member of the Council of Panoptykon Foundation, co-initiator of organising Public Domain Day celebrations.

Hence we have openness and privacy activists on one hand, copyright maximalists and representatives of big IT companies on the other. What will come of this — we'll see.

Public consultations and anonymity

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The problem of anonymity — and a connected issue of representativeness — in public consultations (and wider: generally in public debate) seem to be a Gordian knot. On one hand, anonymity is indicated as necessary for a truly independent discourse; on the other, in invites behaviour that is far from desirable.

We tried to tackle this issue (both in the panels and during the workshops) at the Nowe perspektywy dialogu ("New perspectives of dialogue") conference, held within the framework of the W Dialogu ("In Dialogue") project — in which the FOSS Foundation cooperates with the Institute of Sociology at the University of Warsaw.

The Problem

Anonymity in a discussion has some advantages:

  • higher comfort of voicing opinions — the participants don't have to consider what their spouse, boss or priest thinks of what they have to say; nor do they have to be concerned with potential government retribution for opinions that are not in-line with the "party line";
  • higher capacity to change opinions — as one of the attendees noted, anonymous participants are more likely and willing to admit error and change their opinion based on facts and subject matter arguments;
  • reasoning instead of personal connections — anonymity allows the discussion to move beyond personal connections, relations and animosities, and focus more on subject matter arguments and facts.

Obviously, there are also important drawbacks:

  • trolling — likely to be present in any exchange of ideas, trolls are especially drawn to on-line discussions, and anonymity is a strong contributing factor;
  • mandate — it is hard to ascertain that every member to an anonymous public debate has mandate to partake in it (consider a participatory budgeting debate in a local community: non-residents shouldn't be able to influence the decision);
  • lack of transparency — participants can voice their own opinion, but can work in the interest of particular companies or groups of interests as well; while this is fine, transparency is crucial in a democratic society: information how a given interest group lobbied might important for the final decision, and it is non-trivial to provide accountability and transparency in an anonymous decision making process;
  • sock-puppets — with anonymous participation, what is to stop certain participants, companies or interests groups from using multiple artificial identities to sway the decision?

Would it be possible to have the anonymous cookie and eat it too, though?

Shades of anonymity

First of all, it is worth reminding that there are several shades shades of anonymity, depending on:

  • what data is anonymized (e.g. affiliation, full name, address, gender, etc.);
  • with regard to whom is it anonymized (e.g. other participants to a given discussion, discussion organizers, observers, public institutions, media, etc.);
  • at what stage of the discussion the data is anonymized (e.g. only during the discussion but available it ends, entirely and with regard to the whole discussion and all of its effects, only after the discussion has concluded, etc.).

Additionally, statements in a discussion can be:

  • not being signed at all, allowing for full anonymity — this way participants don't can't even know if any two statements were made by the same person, or different persons;
  • signed with a discussion-specific identifier (e.g. a random number), hiding the identity of authors, but making it possible to see which statements in a given discussion (but not beyond) are made by the same person;
  • signed with a global identifier in all discussions on a given platform (again: for example a random number or UUID), making it possible to check all statements a given person made in all discussions, but still not divulging their identity.

The first of these makes it impossible to follow a conversation (no way to be sure if we're answering the same person, or some other participant). The second one allows for a better structuring of a given discussion, and to more easily follow the exchange of ideas. Last one doesn't really differ from pseudonymity (apart from the fact that the identifier is chosen by the system, instead of the participants themselves), hence it makes it possible for participants to build identities of sorts within a given platform.

Different tools, different aims

Anonymity is a certain tool that can help us achieve certain goals, if we use it with care. How?

Polish Data Protection Supervisor, dr Wiewiórowski, made a simple yet powerful distinction: anonymity makes sense and is very useful in general, high-level consultation processes. As soon as we start consulting particular documents and discuss specifics, commas and numbers, transparency and accountability are much more important — as this is where particular interests really come into play, and we need ways to follow these very closely in a democratic society.

This was further supplemented by a thesis that a fully anonymous public consultation process needs to be evaluated with regard to subject matter by the consultation organisers, and its result should be treated as a guideline rather than a definite decision. If a given process is to be completely binding, it needs to be completely transparent.

Hence on one axis we have a whole spectrum of anonymity of public consultation processes, on the other — a spectrum of how general or particular a given process is and how binding it should be. We also know that there is a strong correlation between the two axes: the more detailed and binding a given consultation process is, the more transparency and accountability is needed, hence less anonymity for its participants.

This correlation, I would say, is extremely powerful in organizing the discussion around anonymity in public consultations. It also means that it is impossible to make a decision about anonymity in a given consultation process without deciding first what kind of a process it is supposed to be. This is also crucial to all attempts at creating tools aiming to support such processes.

It's worth noting we already have examples of quasi-consultation processes from both ends of the spectrum:

  • general elections are partially anonymous (participants are identified to ascertain their mandate, but the vote itself is secret, so that it is impossible to attribute a given ballot to a given voter), while at the same time being very general, high-level and not really binding with regard to particular decisions to be made by representatives (as anybody who voted on a politician just to see them back-pedal from their election-time promises knows full well);
  • consensus meetings around a particular issue are meant to be non-anonymous, fully transparent and accountable (every participant is required to give their name and affiliation), because they are to a large degree binding and concrete.

Another interesting example is the Chatham House Rule:

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

Hence, during a meeting governed by the Rule participants are not anonymous to each other (which solves the problem of representativeness, helps structure the discussion better, etc), but after the meeting all participants can expect full anonymity with regard to who said what (which in turn helps make the discussion more open, honest and not tied-in with particular interests of participants' affiliations).