Friday, August 22, 2008

Musings on Cyberspace

Is child porn on the rise?

Considering the increase in arrests for child pornography and internet predators; is it an indication of a growing interest in this type of activity or an indication of how widespread this behavior is and has been for a long time? With new tools and increased attention, arrests are on the rise mainly due to better law enforcement efforts. However, the number of arrests is probably a small fraction of the number of offenders. I think it is the proverbial tip of the iceberg and that arrests will continue to rise as law enforcement and community efforts continue to improve to combat these types of crime.

Where does the responsibility lie when an on-line service provides a venue for illegal or malicious activity?

Consider the following:

Chat rooms are a huge attraction for people attempting to meet children and groom them for sexual encounters. In my mind, if this is the case, it is just like opening a public park for kids and allowing adults to hang around and interact with the children, completely unsupervised by anyone. The adults are free to groom the kids with impunity. If such a park existed, and it had the amount if illicit activity that exists in chat rooms, would it not be declared a public nuisance and shut down?

Do internet providers like AOL or MSN have any responsibility for trying to make these virtual areas reasonably safe?

Cyber bullying is becoming a weapon of choice for many who want to attack someone else, with or without cause. MySpace, Facebook and Craigslist, to name a few, are prime venues for doing just that. While people constantly violate their terms of service by creating accounts with completely false information, the desire to acquire more hits appears to be greater than the desire to protect the public from misuse of their products. Some effort to tighten up compliance with their terms of service would seem to be in order. Which leads to the next musing:

Anonymity on the Internet may very well be one of its greatest appeals and greatest potential for harm.

Consider free email accounts on the web; these are by far the communication vehicle of choice for people having extra-marital affairs, trading illegal drugs, including offshore pharmacies, sending pornography to children and conducting various illegal activities, because they think the information cannot be recovered since it is on the internet.

Consider the potential damage done by anonymous experts, who can claim to have expertise in any area from medicine to law to forensics science. They freely give advice and expert opinions to unsuspecting people with impunity, shielded by the anonymous nature of the internet.

The internet is becoming the propaganda medium of choice for everyone from businesses to Al-Qaeda. Terrorist organizations have embraced the internet as their recruiting and fund raising medium of choice. No longer just looking like a bunch of fanatics hiding in caves, they are building a web presence that is very modern and hopefully to them, appealing.

Free Speech and Identity Protection

Of course the opposite side of the argument is that anonymity protects the personal information of people who use it. That is a fair position to take I suppose. But to say that it is needed to protect our first amendment right to free speech in America would be incorrect. Of course, not all countries’ citizens have that right and need anonymity to protect themselves from their own government if they want to express a dissenting opinion about conditions or political issues in their country.

These issues will continue to be a legal and ethical struggle for some time as the explosion of internet use and technology continues to outpace legal decisions in the courts and tests the personal responsibility of individuals and the social responsibility of corporations providing services in Cyberspace.

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