A group of researchers and privacy proponents is working to develop new standards for network anonymity at the Internet protocol level, a prospect that could mask the location of Web users.
The coalition, called the NymIP project, plans to create next-generation "pseudonymity and anonymity services for the Internet?designed using an open, public process," according to its Web site.
Formed last month and introduced at a recent Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) session, the group was spearheaded by Zero-Knowledge Systems, a developer of privacy technology, and Harvard University researcher Scott Bradner, who is also an area director for the IETF. The IETF is hosting a working-group mailing list to discuss the issues surrounding the development of privacy standards.
The group formed to address the growing privacy implications of emerging technologies. For example, industrywide acceptance of a new Internet protocol standard, or IP version 6, is poised to make tracing the physical location of Web visitors much easier for the government and businesses.
An IP address is a unique number that designates every device connected to the Internet. Unlike a phone number, IP addresses are usually assigned to Net users each time they access the network, making it difficult to track online travel from session to session. Under the new protocol, numbers wouldn't change as often--a Net user could retain the same IP number for more than a year.
Other privacy concerns include the FCC?s E911 program, which also can track the physical location of cell phone users.
?Should you, being part of a public network, have to reveal your identity or parts of your identity to use the network?? said Adam Shostack, director of technology for Zero-Knowledge. ?When you step on the Internet you should be afforded the same level of privacy? as you have walking down the street, he said.
?We?re focused on the practical research problems on how you do that,? Shostack said.
By developing a common ground between researchers and companies, the NymIP project hopes to develop a trusted, standardized system for protecting privacy that may be more easily accepted by the industry and consumers.
Other members of the group include Lance Cottrell, president of Anonymizer.com; Steve Bellovin, a researcher at AT&T Labs; and Ross Anderson, a professor at Cambridge University in England.