Zero-Knowledge Could Mean Lots o' Lawsuits

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In cyberspace, no one can hear you scream — but they can figure out who you are and where you've been online. This comforts some and annoys others, and for the latter comes the Freedom system, the most comprehensive software package ever to limit the traceability of Internet usage. Produced by Montreal tech firm Zero-Knowledge Systems, the software has been long awaited by privacy advocates, and long dreaded by groups battling cyber-evils such as web-based child-porn rings. How it works: Surfers who purchase the $50 software are given five digital aliases. While web sites can normally trace a user's travel on the Net directly to a specific PC, with the aliases, your travel is linked to nothing but a number, and Zero-Knowledge keeps no records of who is using those numbers.

TIME Digital reporter Lev Grossman says the software will probably have greater importance in determining the law's tolerance for privacy measures than as something that transforms the way we use the Web. "Outside of those who use the Web for criminal purposes, most people don't mind that their movements are traceable." But that potential for criminal abuse has some legislators at the state and even federal level worried enough that the software may be hit within the next few years with laws banning such anonymizing code. "Inevitably, somebody will buy the product and solicit sex with a call girl and then someone will try to pass a law banning it," says Grossman. "Then we'll find out how both the legislators and courts feel." Just a friendly reminder that while we may feel weightless in cyberspace, real-world rules still apply.