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SAN FRANCISCO EDITORIAL
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Here is a guest editorial that ran in Monday's SF Chronicle. It
should make your blood boil.
S a n d y
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ANARCHY, CHAOS ON THE INTERNET MUST END
Elections are over, and for better or worse, recognized leadership is
installed and working in most places. Yet, in Cyberspace the electronic
world dominated by the much-vaunted Internet, there is not much order.
This huge international computer web tying together about 30 million
people is governed by no one.
What an amazing state of affairs. The most powerful communications medium
ever invented is being left to the equivalent of mob rule. Last year was
the year of the Internet in the media. Clearly it is now mainstream.
Nonetheless, judging by what you read or hear, the key question of who
runs it is not even an issue. It is more fun, after all, to contemplate
shopping in an electronic mall or how to order a pizza through a modem.
No matter, if you scratch the surface of this big, happy party, the need
for firm direction is all too obvious. Also reported in the press is an
expanding array of Internet problems. Unregulated broadcasting of
sexually explicit material that is readily available to children usually
heads the list, but on-line sexual harassment, profanity, defamation,
forgery and fraud run close seconds.
The secretiveness that computer communications allows is a special reason
why abuse is easy. National and personal security are serious
considerations when anyone can, with complete anonymity, send encrypted
information worldwide via the Internet. Such problems are further
exacerbated by a computer located in Finland called the Anonymous Server,
which exists for the sole purpose of laundering computer messages, much
like dirty money is laundered through small island nations. Consequently,
if you want to, say, threaten someone with death, your risk of retribution
is small, courtesy of the Anonymous Server.
Nowhere are Cyberspace difficulties more evident than in the inevitable
swing toward Internet commercialization. The widely reported turf war
rages between academic factions that controlled the Internet before it
went public and business newcomers who now want access to its huge
audience. Electronic attacks on business people by means ranging from
computer insults, called flames, to assorted forms of electronic
vandalism, persist uncontrolled. Worst of all are the ``canceller
robots,'' computer programs meant to erase the communications of anyone
the hackers who usually launch them wish to silence.
These self-styled vigilantes routinely challenge free speech in Cyberspace
unabated. Internet access providers, companies that connect people to the
Internet for a profit, likewise assume the role of censors, arbitrarily
closing accounts of those whom they disapprove.
Given its international nature, one obvious way to bring much needed order
to the Internet is through diplomacy. The United States should lead in
this. A good beginning might be to urge the Finnish government to
deactivate the Anonymous Server. Diplomacy could also help to establish
an international standard of recognizing laws existing at the point of
origin as controlling the message sender.
When conflicts arise, governmental diplomacy should again be the answer,
just as it is with other trade and communications issues. Next, laws
already regulating behavior in the real world should be applied in
Cyberspace. This is already taking place on a case-by-case basis, but the
process is too slow. The Supreme Court should act to crate a precedent
stating that crime is crime, even when the criminal instrument is a
In the United States, legislation should be passed making Internet access
providers common carriers. This will get them out of the business of
censorship and under the guiding hand of the Federal Communications
People need safety and order in Cyberspace just as they do in their homes
and on the streets. The current state of the Internet makes it clear that
anarchy isn't working. If recognized governments don't find a way to
bring order to the growing and changing Internet, chaos may soon dictate
that the party is over.
Martha S. Siegel is the author of ``How to Make a Fortune on the
Information Superhighway'' and CEO of Cybersell in Scottsdale, Ariz.
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