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Law and ethics on the Net




>              ABA SCI/TECH SECTION, IPPP COMMITTEE
>                   LAW AND ETHICS ON THE "NETS"
>                         December 8, 1994

I've been on the Cypherpunk's mailing list for about half its lifetime,
am a technology consultant based in New Delhi, do a weekly column on
information society which has covered many of the issues you seem interested
in, and write for WIRED magazine. I am interested in law and ethics in
cyberspace, and would like to participate in your project, as long as it
is not primarily intended to culminate in a set of guidelines for legislation,
which I believe to be pointless. I'm including here some comments to your 
original announcement, which I only saw today. 

>      The development of a national information infrastructure and
> a global electronic network, of which Internet is the backbone, has
> presented a multitude of legal and ethical problems involving use
> and abuse of the networks, nationally and worldwide.  Almost on a
> daily basis, news items announce electronic network transmissions
> constituting hate mail, profanity, vulgarity, obscenity, child
> pornography, sexual harassment, defamation and invasion of privacy.

Unfortunately, due to the way media works, we don't read of the benefits of
total anonymity to participants in sexual abuse groups, human rights activists
and many others. Going by what we read in the media, 93.5% of people on the 
Net are habitual child abusers, and 62% are nuclear-equipped narco-terrorists.

> The violation of intellectual property rights and information
> system security are also frequent occurrences.  National and
> international discussions consider such questions as what "rules of
> the road" ought to apply, who can make them, how can they be
> enforced, and what will be the legal and political relationships
> between states and nations regarding cyberspace?  It is argued that
> at present the lawless, the intolerant and the disrespectful seem
> able to pollute the worldwide information stream with little
> constraint.

Or free it from the monopoly of large media organizations. Ninety-five percent
of the world's news is distributed by four agencies, who effectively shape our
view of the world at large, and decide for us the crises du jour. The Net,
_precisely_ because of its unregulated, bottom-up structure, allowed activists
to communicate during the revolution in Chiapas, Mexico; got international 
agencies to offer support for the massive earthquake in Latur India at once,
rather than wait for a Time magazine photo feature (which - surprise! - was
on Somalia just days before the world suddenly took notice of _that_ problem).

The commitment to freedom of expression, in _any form whatsoever_ including
the anonymous, is arguably the cause for much of the economic and technological
power of the US. It is a matter for concern that, rather than help spread
this freedom to the rest of the world (as is inevitable _if_ the Internet
continues not to be 'governed'), many in and out of government are attempting
to clamp down, out of an almost primeval fear of Digital Evil that stems from
ignorance of wider issues.

>      Certainly, the current state of anarchy in national and global
> electronic networks cannot continue if the technology is to achieve
> the remarkable benefits that have been predicted in terms of
> communications among institutions and individuals, whether
> government, business or society at large.  The purpose of the

On the contrary, the 'current state of anarchy' has largely been responsible
for advancements in US research for the two decades since the Internet was
born. What is needed, perhaps, is a dialogue to improve understanding among
'society at large' of a community that is, though at present largly composed 
of technology professionals or academics, an example of multicultural and 
multinational cooperation and tolerance that would be nice to see in, say,
Los Angeles, or elsewhere in the 'real world'.

> George B. Trubow, Professor of Law
> Director, Center for Informatics Law
> The John Marshall Law School
> 315 S. Plymouth Ct.
> Chicago, IL 60604-3907
> Fax: 312-427-8307; Voice: 312-987-1445
> E-mail: [email protected]

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