Anonymous Publishing and Risking Execution

by phobos | June 1, 2008

Here's a timely reminder of why anonymous publishing tools like Tor
are so critical to free expression. A recent book, Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature, covers the history of anonymous publication in English literature, noting that many authors and publishers were imprisoned, tortured, or killed for expressing politically unpopular views.

Risking execution
In the current London Review of Books Terry Eagleton writes on the history of publishing books anonymously:

There were … legal and political reasons for the ubiquity of Anon. There were times when the state needed to know the author or printer of a work in order to know who to prosecute for heresy or sedition. In 1579, John Stubbs had his right hand cut off for writing a work opposing the marriage of Elizabeth I to a French nobleman. Elizabeth herself urged that the printers of the anti-Anglican Marprelate tracts should be subjected to torture. In 1663, a London printer who published a pamphlet which argued that the monarch should be accountable to his subjects, and justified the people’s right to rebellion, was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. He refused, even so, to reveal the name of the pamphlet’s author, though the disclosure might have saved his life. Between the 16th and the 18th century, printers were fined, imprisoned and pilloried for publishing supposedly treasonable works whose authors remained concealed. Being Jonathan Swift’s printer was not a job for the faint-hearted.

Looking for modern parallels, can you imagine the head of an ISP risking execution to defend the anonymity of a person publishing something via their servers when a government or company takes exception to it?

I know, ISPs rightly try to avoid being classed as “publishers”, but they’re still the ones offended parties go to to halt online “publication” or reveal authorial identity. I guess a closer parallel would be the owner of a website risking execution to safeguard the identity of a writer whose work they’d knowingly published on their site. Actually, the closest modern day parallel is, duh, a book
publisher, but that doesn’t seem much more likely a situation either.


Please note that the comment area below has been archived.

The actual book being reviewed is
Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature by John Mullan,

Publisher: Faber and Faber (17 Jan 2008)
ISBN-10: 0571195148
ISBN-13: 978-0571195145

For examples of, say, bloggers, who are facing arrest and torture, and possible execution today, see The Committee to Protect Bloggers and the internet specific category at Reporters without Borders

September 08, 2008


So it's better to remain anonymous than to admit our beliefs? Lucky for us we live in a world where there's a right to free speech.

September 08, 2008


i run debian etch.
got the tor(2.0.3) and privoxy(3.0.6) installed.
BUT: privoxy wouldnt accept the line "forward-socks5 / 127..0.0.1:9050"
BUt : same thing works fine with socks4a!
it just sais "unrecognized directive, ignore"!!
im freaking out here !
need some help please.