[to what extent is there online anonymity?

In a forum, members of the presidential majority call for an end to anonymity on social networks. If today it is possible to find a person's identity through their IP address, this search becomes more complicated when using a VPN.

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The bill tabled by MP Paul Midy aims to impose a unique identification number for internet users, allowing them to create multiple pseudonymous profiles.  (indicative photo) (TANAWIT SABPRASAN / ISTOCKPHOTO / GETTY)

Internet, the place of all possibilities where everything is allowed? Here is the idea credited and denounced, on Sunday March 24, by Paul Midy, Renaissance MP for Essonne, in La Tribune Sunday. With 125 other members of the majority, he signed a forum where the deputies confirmed “That we should not allow anonymity to the police or judicial authorities when we commit a serious offense or crime” and campaign for “The end of absolute anonymity in social networks”.

Paul Midy is the sponsor of the Safeguarding and Protecting Digital Space Bill, which the joint committee reached agreement on on Thursday. He he had clarified his argument on Monday, on the set of “Télématin”. He specifically explained that “95% of French people feel anonymous on social networks”, that creates, “feeling of impunity”, And partly causes the spread of hate speech on social networks. According to the law, a person who speaks anonymously or under a pseudonym can be found on the platforms. But really, what is it?

Court procedures necessary for identification

Once a user is online, they are potentially identifiable. “It is possible to identify a person through their IP address [protocole internet]“, assures Antoine Cheron, a lawyer in intellectual property law, interviewed by franceinfo. This unique identification number is assigned to each device connected to a computer network, such as wifi. However, it remains necessary to initiate a legal process to obtain the data. “Internet service providers retain users' personal information associated with their IP address, including for example users' billing and subscription information,” adds Antoine Cheron.

The authorities are the only ones who can force them to share this information. Article L-34-1 of the Postal and Electronic Communications Code requires operators to provide the IP address if requested in criminal proceedings. “Tests were performed using these techniques” notes Thomas Boudier, a digital law attorney. The 28 defendants in Magali Berdah's online stalking trial were found, for example, using their IP address.

From the entry into force of the European Digital Service Act on 17 February 2024, online platforms whose users are located in the European Union must also cooperate with police agencies “to share information about the author of illegal content”, explains Antoine Cheron. Therefore, they are offensive, hateful, discriminatory comments, related to cyber-harassment or activities related to child crime. The police can access the IP addresses of Internet users if they have committed an offense punishable by more than a year in prison, such as in the case of cyberstalking, as the website service-public.fr points out.

Once the process starts, there are several scenarios. According to Paul Midy, 50% of the population is easily found.

“If you live alone at home, own the home, and connect to a computer on the wifi network you're subscribed to, that's the ideal scenario.”

Paul Midy, introducer of the bill for the safeguarding and protection of the digital space

at franceinfo

For the remaining 50% people, according to the MP, are difficult to identify, even impossible to find. “In theory, anonymity is possible, but someone who wants to be anonymous online can remain anonymous”confirms Thomas Boudier.

“VPNs are one way to do that,” explains. Virtual private networks, which are often paid for, allow the device in use to connect to a different IP address than the one actually used. In addition, some of them do not cooperate with the authorities during their investigations. This is especially true for NordVPN, one of the most used in France. “We do not respond positively to requests asking us for information about our users, as we do not have records of them,” trust the company at franceinfo.

“Every user leaves traces”

However, NordVPN assures us: “There is no such thing as a completely anonymous VPN”. Even using this tool, an Internet user can share personal data through their cookies (the collection of data about user preferences) from major platforms such as Google and Facebook. In contact, the Pharos platform, the official French portal for reporting illegal content online, reminds “No one is strictly anonymous on the internet. Every user leaves a digital footprint”.

The bill tabled by MP Paul Midy aims to impose a unique identification number for internet users, allowing them to create multiple pseudonymous profiles. They will thus be easily recognized by the authorities and will just go away “traces” from their time on the internet.

The other's brakes may, however, pose a problem in the search for suspects. “Many victims do not file complaints. They are afraid that the procedures are not attributed, so this limits the research,” reports Paul Midy. Antoine Cheron, for his part, explains that if the victim decides to file a complaint, “some members of law enforcement may lack awareness and adequate training in identifying, investigating, and handling cyberharassment cases”.

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