2.2.3 In what ways might the internet change?

The benefits and dangers perceived by (respectively) Utopians and dystopians are a consequence of the existing architecture of the internet. The network was designed on the principles that control would be completely decentralised (it was owned by nobody and you didn't need anyone's permission to join) and that the system was not interested in the identity of its users (only in the addresses of their computers). This meant that the system facilitated anonymity – as summed up in the famous 1993 New Yorker cartoon showing two dogs in front of a computer. One dog is saying ‘On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog.’ The anonymity facilitated by the Net's original design is a source of both freedom (e.g. to publish without fear of retribution) and irresponsibility (it enables criminals and others to communicate, paedophiles to distribute illegal material and music lovers to exchange copyrighted materials).

This talk of anonymity may puzzle you. After all, isn't everything you do on the Net logged by the servers through which your Web and email traffic flows? Answer: yes, but at present activity is logged only at the level of the computer you happen to be using. There is nothing that authenticates users – i.e. that links you as a named individual to what the computer you are using is doing on the Net.

But this could change. One of the points that Lessig makes in The Future of Ideas is that an authentication layer could easily be added to the Net. This would make it mandatory for some users to provide evidence of their identity and reverse the tolerance of anonymity that currently characterises the Net, thereby turning it into a different kind of space.

2.2.2 The malleable Net … and its implications

2.2.4 What are the forces that might lead to changes?