An IP address is a unique succession of numbers assigned to you when you connect to the Internet or, better said, to your Internet connection. It allows you to transfer information and data from the Internet (web pages, downloads, etc.) to your computer, and you keep it, until you disconnect from the Internet, an operation carried out at least once a day by your provider. (After the disconnection, you will frequently get a new IP address, although this is not necessarily the rule for every provider. Then the address assigned is associated with your connection for several months or even several years, similar to Internet users with fixed addresses, which manage servers and have to make sure that they can be constantly contacted from the outside. Also the new IPv6 address standard sets forth fixed addresses for each Internet use.)
The downside of an IP address: It clearly identifies your connection - and, therefore, you, as the connection owner. Obviously, it is not necessary for the person surfing the Internet to be the same with the connection owner (this difference being highly frequent in practice), but jurisprudence makes no difference there. If your connection is used in a crime that is reported, or assumed (for example, a child illegally downloading data protected by copyright without being aware of the consequences of his/her deeds), you, as the connection owner, will be held liable in many countries. Another negative consequence of IP addresses for you as an Internet user is that the Internet page administrator can track you, which allows him/her to find out the activities you carry out on other pages. For example: you've purchased a washing machine online and now you wonder why different sales platforms send you commercials for dishwashers. Stop wondering. You were noticed when buying and your IP address allows for you to be identified.
How can someone find out your IP address? It's very simple, because you 'wear' it like a registration plate whenever you carry out transactions on the Internet. But how can they find your real name? By sending an information request to your provider. The latter will then submit all the Internet pages you access and draw-up an exact profile of the activities you carry out. If your IP address is used to commit a crime, alleged or real, the persons prejudiced can request that the IP address involved to be checked. In such a situation, the provider only has to associate the address and the time stamp in order to find the connection corresponding with the IP address in question at that particular moment. The period for which this data (name, IP address and pages accessed) is available for submitting information requests depends on your provider. Some providers erase the data quickly, others do it after a week. There is also a so-called 'Quick Freeze', through which a provider is immediately contacted by the inquiry agents, and is subsequently obliged to keep the personal data in question available for a longer period of time, even if there is no court order issued. This data includes the name of the customer logged in, along with the valid IP address at the time of registration, as well as the destinations selected on the Internet.
Is an information request required all the time? Not necessarily. Because the IP address is associated to a registration number and because the Internet pages administrators tend to collect a large volume of data regarding a surfer, after multiple page openings, you actually carry with you a genuine data comet - unfortunately, this also includes email addresses, and, if a person is careless enough, their name as well (and the log-in data anyway).