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In the very near future, we find out about a secret society whose sole purpose is to raise children who have absolutely no online presence. They are moving to a mysterious "phase 2" of their plan and the children (now grown) are released to operate Covert Plot Devices online. But...the society was created by people who have had an online presence, and it has to operate various logistical things like houses and food, transportation and the like just to keep itself going. More importantly, these children had to be highly trained in the art of cyber espionage, and the society would have to:

a) keep up with the times

b) train the children in real-world scenarios

How does this society operate in a world of ever-increasing cyber surveillance while ensuring that it's end goal - the totally anonymous generation - can be raised without any trace at all?

**Edit: The founding of the society must take place in the early to mid 1990s and the founders are assumed to have been otherwise normal people at that time, in the sense that their records would exist as normal. It's not like they or their parents somehow predicted that their future offspring would require anonymity and they were not careful about it during their non-society life.

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    $\begingroup$ What constitutes an online presence to this society? Does it include closed-loop data like patient records? Does it include anonymized data like being in the background of someone else's foto? $\endgroup$
    – xyldke
    Jul 25, 2022 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ That's an interesting question. My knee-jerk reaction is that the children should have absolutely no data about them stored on any network outside of what the society has set up for itself. The founders of the society would have a normal amount of data for a person who died in the mid 1990s $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2022 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ If the founders were normal people, than all these kids have birth records, which are kept in hospitals, so ... $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Jul 25, 2022 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Halfthawed that's a good point, but it just means that the children would have had to be born after the founding of the society $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2022 at 13:07

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This is easy. They do home births, perhaps having one or two midwifes/obstetrics-nurses/obstetricians in their group.

They can opt in or opt out of birth certificates if they so choose (whatever is convenient for the storyline). If they opt out, special precautions are taken to avoid the sorts of issues that creep up when you have young children without that documentation (long distance travel, primarily, if you have nosy cops asking to prove that the baby's yours when they pull you over for a broken tail light).

Social security numbers are likewise not an issue (even if you have the baby at the hospital, it's a piece of paperwork you have to fill out to get one).

The children will be homeschooled. If someone notices this, it's not completely out of the ordinary nowdays... so they can hide among all the rest. It won't raise many eyebrows.

Extracurriculars are limited to those where group photos will not be taken (or maybe eliminated entirely).

They'd live in flyover country. Nebraska or South Dakota or Idaho. The kids only have friends from parents who do not use Facebook and don't want their own kids' photos posted to social media (I know some of that sort of people myself).

This makes it easy for the children to learn to use firearms without going to a public range (where photos are occasionally taken and posted). Other espionage-adjacent skills are more difficult to pursue in a social-media-absent way. Flyover country's not great for most martial arts, as I've discovered for myself.

The real trouble comes along when you're trying to set up multiple fake identities for each child. Since 9-11 this has become very difficult (though not impossible) in the United States. It's possible through some states' vital records departments to register birth certificates online. These aren't always rigorously verified either. Registering them for a social security card is difficult and time-consuming too, and some SSA folks are nosy enough to want to see the baby when you get the number. Those two documents are the basics, but more is needed for a false identity that is unremarkable. Likely, in this day and age, those children's false identities will need a social media presence.

The best bet is to never use their photographs. Instead, one would use GNN-generated "people who have never existed" for this purpose. The technology's not quite ready off the shelf... it has trouble generating the same fake person twice, for instance. Or that the ones I've found can't generate children of arbitrary ages. Though one could take a single good image from that, and deepfake it into other images for reuse. Since children's faces are assumed to change quite a bit growing into adulthood, you need only match hair color, eye color, and skin tone... the pictures won't look like the actual kids, so pose little danger of exposing them early.

It might be a full-time job just creating these images and false personal histories and posting those to Facebook/Instagram/whatever. Might be more than that, so I hope your secret society has plenty of resources. Image files have to be created with fake exif data, uploaded hours within when they were supposedly taken. Background imagery has to be sanity-checked (you don't want to claim it was taken in Portland Oregon at that intersection without knowing for certain no local news events occurred that would make that location absurd... e.g. a large housefire had 18 firetrucks parked right there for 6 hours).

Crap, if anyone wants to downvote this answer go for it. I only just realized that this requires that the group start operations in the 1990s... some of this knowledge did not exist then. But I'll post it anyway to show that it could be founded much later and still be threadbare plausible.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, this is great to go on. FYI, just because the organization started in the 1990s doesn't mean it was stagnant. Remember that the children have to be trained in espionage and cyber stuff anyway, so the organization has to adapt to the times until Phase 2 happens $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2022 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ The same tech that created the "This Person Does Not Exist" images could easily be retrained to produce images of children. You'd just need to feed them a limited dataset of actual photos of kids the appropriate age. Might need to do several age ranges, and also filter the training images on gender, ethnicity, etc. if you want to get more consistency. $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2022 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ And before we had "this person does not exist", we had artists. A sufficiently-talented artist is indistinguishable from magic. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Jul 26, 2022 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ @wizzwizz4 I concede that artists might manage this trick... they'd start with some stock image, and airbrush in another face and so forth. But it's likely unnecessary... before the tech, there was no need to create an extensive personal history with corroborating evidence for children. "Why are there no pictures of you as a kid" is answered with "we lost everything in a house fire when I was 13". $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Jul 26, 2022 at 23:15
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Use an Orphanage for Cover

(I'm using a Frame Challenge and saying that this is a custom-built institute, because otherwise it's impossible to assure zero records without using ludicrous levels of hacking.)

It would be extraordinarily difficult to get around any kind of purchase order necessary for growing children and hide their presence, so the solution is simple - don't. Instead, create a charity fund, something like the 'Society of the Tenderly Affectionate', and build a very high end orphanage - lots of spacious rooms, lots of beds, and the absolute latest in schooling and modern technology to help those poor orphans grow up and become well-adjusted adults.

Except it's a scam.

Oh, the orphanage is real enough, but the faculty is all in on the actual STA. The facilities, which are hard looped on their own databases, contain an in-house doctor (who is a member of STA), who helps the faculty give birth to children. These children are then raised in a secret area of the orphanage (which won't show up on the official maps, having been adjusted and sealed off secretly) and are supplied for by the 'excess' orders for the cover orphans.

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Raise them in the 3rd World

You know who's not online? People who burn dung for light. They are not sharing photos of the locusts that ate their crops or the mosquitos that carry malaria on Snapchat.

Local officials can be bought cheaply, and money can be funneled via some bullshit NGO that funnels 50% of all its funds to the society via cash ('grants to locals'). This actually happens all the time in real life. 50% is ethical compared to a lot of NGOs.

Reminder: This is the 1990s. No cellphones at the time of founding.

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    $\begingroup$ But...none of that is true. The so-called "third world" is highly connected, they skipped the entirety of the landline phase of telecommunications and most of our opinions about what is true in the majority world are based on 1970s outdated understandings of human development. I'm afraid that this solution simply won't work $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2022 at 14:05
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    $\begingroup$ This is in the 1990s. Communications in the 3rd world really did suck until cheap cellphones in the last 15 years. Even now, outside of major cities, it's very patchy. It's light years ahead of where it was but...it's not the UK, you're overstating your case. And yes, corruption of local officials is blatantly a thing, and useful in this case. It's your story, do what you like. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Jul 25, 2022 at 22:11
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    $\begingroup$ @SeanOConnor The conspiracy started in the 90s but the story itself is present-day. Which would add an interesting dimension - they moved out to somewhere remote assuming it would be off the grid forever and then had to adapt when it turned out that wasn't accurate. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Jul 25, 2022 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Cadence That's more or less what I had in mind, start with it being easy, and use bribes as it gets more difficult. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Jul 26, 2022 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ Also, if all your connectivity is through smartphones (as is common in countries with limited infrastructure), it's not difficult to lock them to a covert mobile phone frequency that only broadcasts to the STA's closed network. This would also provide the the secure sandbox where the kids get trained for cyber espionage. I was actually going to suggest merging this with @Halfthawed 's answer and suggest that the founders set up a religious mission in a remote, unconnected part of the world; the kids are a mix of their own offspring and local orphans, brought up in a kibbutz-like environment. $\endgroup$
    – Ottie
    Jul 26, 2022 at 13:37
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As a frame challenge: extreme technological anonymity is only going to make it more difficult for your children to play their role in your conspiracy. In fact, it's going to make it more difficult for them to live, period. In the past year alone, I've used my email or accounts linked to it to:

  • Chat with my friends
  • Engage with social media
  • Play games
  • Order fast food and groceries
  • Look for a job
  • Pay taxes and bills
  • Rent an apartment
  • Book air travel
  • probably some other things I've forgotten

Can you imagine how suspicious it would be to not do any of that? Yes, in many cases it's possible to get by without an online presence, and the absence of a few of those items wouldn't be remarkable, but for a younger person to not have done any of these things online in their lives raises questions, like "why?", not to mention "how?". You don't want to raise those questions, or any questions at all if you can help it.

You mention that these kids are raised to be experts in cyber-espionage, but good spies don't operate under such theatrical over-secrecy. A good spy has photos on their Facebook and personal texts on their phone and pays their bills online because they know their goal is not to go unseen. They assume that at some point they will be seen, and at that point, they need to look innocuous.

If these kids grow up to be elite cyber-spies, they'll know all of this. They'll know how to maintain an innocent online presence, one that will let them pass unremarked through society.

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    $\begingroup$ Just as a real-world example, one RCMP member I spoke to had worked support for undercover cops, and mentioned some of the difficulties trying to infiltrate, say, biker gangs. One of the first things they do when meeting a potential member is simply to Google them or do an image search. If someone doesn't have any kind of digital presence, they immediately get suspicious. And ordinary people do the same. One of the first things I do for a potential new staff member is look them up. $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2022 at 21:15
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First, question what it is to 'have' a birth certificate, how does it even relate to who you are. Its a document that 'joins' other documents about a 'person' who has your name.

Now, why 'not' have these? why does the society need to have 'zero' presence, and why not 'disconnected' presence.

I can only speak from an Australian perspective, yet, until I needed a drivers license, there were no official photos of me. Had I never gone for one, I could have existed 'incognito' easily.

To get a bank account, I can provide my birth certificate and a postal address, using that I can rent an apartment, now I get bills for that address, and using those bills I can apply for credit cards. No photo ID required.

Your 'team' can all have fake[real] identities, their 'persona' to get around all the red-tape, if even needed. They're registered as being home schooled, they move around, maybe registered as military kids.

Or Amish? do those communities register anything outside of their villages?

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Under the cover of religious Nutjobs. Find me records of the FLDS births and parentage. You couldn't because they were never recorded except in their church. And if their leader hadn't been caught being a pedophile they would still be secret.

Make it about religion and you can get away with murder or pedophilia for a very long time or you could raise the children to be superhackers.

Also provides a way for them to all of a sudden "show up" when they "quit" the cult.

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As an alternative to trying to completely hide, perhaps you could try:

Mis-direction

Instead of trying to completely hide the children's existence, make a controlled portfolio of online data that can be easily discarded.

Steve can't be the hacker who broke into the vault in Berlin, he was posting photos of his beach holiday in the Canary Islands at that time.

When Steve was born, his birth was registered twice under two different names. He was given 2 SSNs and 2 passports. One of these identities was locked in a vault for 20 years, and the other was used for his entire childhood. Only Steve, his parents, and The Order knew about his other identity, and he was trained from an early age to only post specific messages on social media that would build a persona that everyone could point to and say "That's Steve".

He grows up in a small town run entirely by The Order and doesn't leave until he is an adult. He's trained to keep his hair short and scrub himself religiously in the shower every day to remove as much dead skin as possible. When he does leave town, he gets a job where he's expected to wear gloves and a hat at all times. He draws his paycheck in cash each week and pays it into a numbered account in a bank owned by The Order.

When D-Day arrives Steve just vanishes. His identity documents are placed in The Order's vault and his other documents are removed. In every legal sense, he exists. These are no forgeries to ever be discovered. Yet they have no history and no connection (save his date of birth - which is shared with thousands of others) to his other identity.

He is free to move around, drawing no suspicion, because his documents all appear to be in order. During his training, he is given access to sensitive services, to which he creates subtle backdoors. Others like him have created backdoors in other systems, some of which are harmless on the surface, but when used together with others can grant access to a wide variety of systems. Crucially, none of them ever use their own backdoors. Only credentials to which there is no real-world connection to the user can be used, diverting suspicion should anyone get caught (a la Strangers on a Train).

In short, make everyone look the other way in a very visible "Now you see me" right up until it's time to vanish to complete the "Now you don't".

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