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Essay/Term paper: Government intervention on the internet

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Information Technology

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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?
Before the advent of the Internet, the U.S. government controlled most
new encryption techniques. But with the development of the WWW and faster home
computers, they no longer have the control they once had. New algorithms have
been discovered that are reportedly uncrackable even by the FBI and NSA. The
government is concerned that they will be unable to maintain the ability to
conduct electronic surveillance into the digital age. To stop the spread of
data encryption software, they have imposed very strict laws on its exportation.
One programmer, Phil Zimmerman, wrote an encryption program he called PGP
(Pretty Good Privacy). When he heard of the government's intent to ban
distribution encryption software, he immediately released the program to be
public for free. PGP's software is among the most powerful public encryption
tool available.
The government has not been totally blind by the need for encryption.
The banks have sponsored an algorithm called DES, that has been used by banks
for decades. While to some, its usage by banks may seem more ethical, but what
makes it unethical for everyone else to use encryption too? The government is
now developing a new encryption method that relies on a microchip that may be
placed inside just about any type of electronic equipment. It is called the
Clipper chip and is 16 million times more powerful than DES and today's fastest
computers would take approximately 400 billion years to decipher it. At the
time of manufacture, the chips are loaded with their own unique key, and the
government gets a copy. But don't worry the government promises that they will
use these keys only to read traffic when duly authorized by law. But before
this new chip can be used effectively, the government must get rid of all other
forms of cryptography.
The relevance of my two topics of choice seems to have been conveniently
overlooked by our government. Internet privacy through data encryption and
Internet censorship are linked in one important way. If everyone used
encryption, there would be no way that an innocent bystander could stumble upon
something they weren't meant to see. Only the intended receiver of an encrypted
message can decode it and view its contents; the sender isn't even able to view
such contents. Each coded message also has an encrypted signature verifying the
sender's identity. Gone would be the hate mail that causes many problems, as
well as the ability to forge a document with someone else's address. If the
government didn't have ulterior motives, they would mandate encryption, not
outlaw it.
As the Internet grows throughout the world, more governments may try to
impose their views onto the rest of the world through regulations and censorship.
If too many regulations are enacted, then the Internet as a tool will become
nearly useless, and our mass communication device, a place of freedom for our
mind's thoughts will fade away. We must regulate ourselves as not to force the
government to regulate us. If encryption is allowed to catch on, there will no
longer be a need for the government to intervene on the Internet, and the
biggest problem may work itself out. As a whole, we all need to rethink our
approach to censorship and encryption and allow the Internet to continue to grow
and mature.

Works Cited

Compiled Texts. University of Miami. Miami, Florida.

Lehrer, Dan. "The Secret Shares: Clipper Chips and Cyberpunks." The Nation.
Oct. 10, 1994, 376-379.

Messmer, Ellen. "Fighting for Justice on the New Frontier." Network World.
CD-ROM database. Jan. 11, 1993.

Messmer, Ellen "Policing Cyberspace." U.S. News & World Report.
Jan. 23, 1995, 55-60.

Webcrawler Search Results. Webcrawler. Query: Internet, censorship, and
ethics. March 12, 1997.

Zimmerman, Phil. Pretty Good Privacy v2.62, Online. Ftp://net-dist.mit.edu
Directory: /pub/pgp/dist/pgp262dc.zip.


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