This project examines the legal and technical aspects of anonymous communication in the Internet, including the re-identification of seemingly anonymous users. In pursuing these issues, it shares the Institute’s research focus on the functional and territorial limits of criminal law. The project thereby contributes to the current discussion in data security law regarding the "right to anonymity."

"En­cryp­tion and an­onym­iz­a­tion cre­ate pro­sec­u­tion-proof zones with fatal con­sequences for do­mest­ic se­cur­ity," main­tains Ger­man Fed­er­al Po­lice (Bundeskrim­in­alamt) Chief Jörg Zi­erke. This is cor­rect in that a suc­cess­ful an­onym­iz­a­tion ob­scures the IP ad­dress, which could oth­er­wise be used to identi­fy an act­or’s iden­tity. In­deed, both the state and private en­tit­ies may be cap­able of identi­fy­ing users. As a res­ult, more and more users who are savvy about data pro­tec­tion are tak­ing steps to con­ceal their IP ad­dress and, con­sequently, their own iden­tity; they are also tak­ing steps to pro­tect their data by means of en­cryp­tion. Hence, this pro­ject ad­dresses the is­sue of the func­tion­al lim­its of crim­in­al law, es­pe­cially the ques­tion of wheth­er by means of an­onym­iz­a­tion and en­cryp­tion of­fend­ers are ac­tu­ally in the po­s­i­tion of cre­at­ing for them­selves pro­sec­u­tion-proof zones in the In­ter­net. The ter­rit­ori­al lim­its of crim­in­al law are also ad­dressed, be­cause soph­ist­ic­ated an­onym­iz­a­tion tech­niques of­ten make use of transna­tion­al struc­tures in or­der to of­fer a high­er de­gree of tech­nic­al as well as of leg­al se­cur­ity.

This pro­ject stud­ies vari­ous as­pects of an­onym­ity. One fo­cus is on laws that deal with an­onym­ous com­mu­nic­a­tion in the In­ter­net; a second is on the tech­nic­al as­pects of an­onym­ity, that is, on meth­ods of con­ceal­ing or re­cov­er­ing di­git­al traces on the In­ter­net.

This pro­ject has three re­search goals. The first is to find out wheth­er – as pre­sumed by some ex­perts on data pro­tec­tion – there is in fact a right in Ger­many to an­onym­ous com­mu­nic­a­tion in the In­ter­net and what ac­tu­ally re­mains of this sup­posed right in light of the rising flood of se­cur­ity-re­lated le­gis­la­tion. The second is to study the prac­tic­al sig­ni­fic­ance of "self-data pro­tec­tion," in par­tic­u­lar wheth­er users can en­gage in ef­fect­ive an­onym­iz­a­tion in spite of con­trary leg­al pro­vi­sions. The third is to study the ef­fects of leg­ally guar­an­teed and tech­no­lo­gic­ally en­force­able an­onym­ity on pro­sec­u­tion and to cla­ri­fy the ques­tion of wheth­er an­onym­iz­a­tion can ac­tu­ally pre­clude ef­fect­ive pro­sec­u­tion.

A meth­od­o­lo­gic­al dis­tinc­tion needs to be drawn between the pro­ject’s leg­al and its tech­nic­al goals. The former will be in­vest­ig­ated by means of an ana­lys­is of Ger­man le­gis­la­tion, case law, and lit­er­at­ure; in­ter­na­tion­al in­stru­ments that dir­ectly or in­dir­ectly in­flu­ence the leg­al situ­ation in Ger­many are also in­cluded. The tech­nic­al goals, in con­trast, will be pur­sued via a sys­tem­at­ic crim­in­al­ist­ic study that ad­dresses the vari­ous meth­ods of an­onym­iz­a­tion as well as their in­di­vidu­al ad­vant­ages and dis­ad­vant­ages.

This pro­ject was com­pleted in 2008. The res­ults with re­gard to the first two goals yield a con­flict­ing pic­ture. Many – es­pe­cially more re­cent – stat­utes value and pro­mote an­onym­ity as the strongest form of data pro­tec­tion. At the same time, however, grow­ing tend­en­cies to col­lect and save data even in the ab­sence of tech­no­lo­gic­al ne­ces­sity – and for longer time peri­ods – are dis­cern­able in se­cur­ity le­gis­la­tion. This is es­pe­cially true of the newly in­tro­duced and still highly con­tro­ver­sial pro­vi­sions on the re­ten­tion of tele­com­mu­nic­a­tion data. These kinds of leg­al pro­vi­sions cre­ate obstacles that can al­ways be evaded by means of tech­nic­al pro­ced­ures and transna­tion­al co­oper­a­tion; laws and oth­er leg­al in­stru­ments are, however, mak­ing this in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult.