Government Intervention on the Internet

CIS 302 - Information Systems I

John J. Doe
March 12, 1997

During the last decade, our society has become based on the sole ability
to move large amounts of information across great distances quickly.
Computerization has influenced everyone's life in numerous ways. The natural
evolution of computer technology and this need for ultra-fast communications has
caused a global network of interconnected computers to develop. This global
network allows a person to send E-mail across the world in mere fractions of a
second, and allows a common person to access wealths of information worldwide.
This newfound global network, originally called Arconet, was developed and
funded solely by and for the U.S. government. It was to be used in the event of
a nuclear attack in order to keep communications lines open across the country
by rerouting information through different servers across the country. Does
this mean that the government owns the Internet, or is it no longer a tool
limited by the powers that govern. Generalities such as these have sparked
great debates within our nation's government. This paper will attempt to focus
on two high profile ethical aspects concerning the Internet and its usage.
These subjects are Internet privacy and Internet censorship.
At the moment, the Internet is epitome of our first amendment, free
speech. It is a place where a person can speak their mind without being
reprimanded for what they say or how they choose to say it. But also contained
on the Internet, are a huge collection of obscene graphics, Anarchists'
cookbooks, and countless other things that offend many people. There are over
30 million Internet surfers in the U.S. alone, and much is to be said about what
offends whom and how.
As with many new technologies, today's laws don't apply well when it
comes to the Internet. Is the Internet like a bookstore, where servers can not
be expected to review every title? Is it like a phone company who must ignore
what it carries because of privacy; or is it like a broadcast medium, where the
government monitors what is broadcast? The problem we are facing today is that
the Internet can be all or none of the above depending on how it is used.
Internet censorship, what does it mean? Is it possible to censor
amounts of information that are all alone unimaginable? The Internet was
originally designed to "find a way around" in case of broken communications
lines, and it seems that explicit material keeps finding its "way around" too.
I am opposed to such content on the Internet and therefore am a firm believer in
Internet censorship. However, the question at hand is just how much censorship
the government impose. Because the Internet has become the largest source of
information in the world, legislative safeguards are indeed imminent. Explicit
material is not readily available over the mail or telephone and distribution of
obscene material is illegal. Therefore, there is no reason this stuff should go
unimpeded across the Internet. Sure, there are some blocking devices, but they
are no substitute for well-reasoned law. To counter this, the United States has
set regulations to determine what is categorized as obscenity and what is not.
By laws set previously by the government, obscene material should not be
accessible through the Internet. The problem society is now facing is that
cyberspace is like a neighborhood without a police department. "Outlaws" are
now able to use powerful cryptography to send and receive uncrackable
communications across the Internet. Devices set up to filter certain
communications cannot filter that which cannot be read, which leads to my other
topic of interest: data encryption.
By nature, the Internet is an insecure method of transferring data. A
single E-mail packet may pass through hundreds of computers between its source
and destination. At each computer, there is a chance that the data will be
archived and someone may intercept the data, private or not. Credit card
numbers are a frequent target of hackers. Encryption is a means of encoding
data so that only someone with the proper "key" can decode it. So far, recent
attempts by the government to control data encryption have failed. They are
concerned that encryption will block their monitoring capabilities, but there is
nothing wrong with asserting our privacy. Privacy is an inalienable right given
to us by our constitution.
For example, your E-mail may be legitimate enough that encryption is
unnecessary. If you we do indeed have nothing to hide, then why don't we send
our paper mail on postcards? Are we trying to hide something? In comparison,
is it wrong to encrypt E-mail?