Government Intervention of the InternetDuring the past decade, our society has become based solely on the ability to movelarge amounts of information across large distances quickly. Computerization hasinfluenced everyone’s life. The natural evolution of computers and this need forultra-fast communications has caused a global network of interconnected computers to develop. This global net allows a person to send E-mail across the world in mere fractions of a second, and enables even the common person to access information world-wide.
With advances such as software that allows users with a sound card to use the Internet as a carrier for long distance voice calls and video conferencing, this network is key to the future of the knowledge society. At present, this net is the epitome of the first amendment: free speech. It is a place where people can speak their mind without being reprimanded for what they say, or how they choose to say it. The key to the world-wide success of the Internet is its protection of free speech, not only in America, but in other countries where free speech is not protected by a constitution. To be found on the Internet is a huge collection of obscene graphics, Anarchists’ cookbooks and countless other things that offend some people. With over 30 million Internet users in the U.
S. alone (only 3 million of which surf the net from home), everything is bound to offend someone. The newest wave of laws floating through law making bodies around the world threatens to stifle this area of spontaneity. Recently, Congress has been considering passing laws that will make it a crime punishable by jail to send “vulgar” language over the net, and to export encryption software. No matter how small, any attempt at government intervention in the Internet will stifle the greatest communication innovation of this century. The government wants to maintain control over this new form of communication, and they are trying to use the protection of children as a smoke screen to pass laws that will allow them to regulate and censor the Internet, while banning techniques that could eliminate the need for regulation. Censorship of the Internet threatens to destroy its freelance atmosphere, while wide spread encryption could help prevent the need for government intervention.
The current body of laws existing today in America does not apply well to theInternet. Is the Internet like a bookstore, where servers cannot be expected toreview every title? Is it like a phone company who must ignore what it carriesbecause of privacy? Is it like a broadcasting medium, where the governmentmonitors what is broadcast? The trouble is that the Internet can be all or none ofthese things depending on how it’s used. The Internet cannot be viewed as onetype of transfer medium under current broadcast definitions. The Internet differs from broadcasting media in that one cannot just happen upon avulgar site without first entering a complicated address, or following a link fromanother source. “The Internet is much more like going into a book store andchoosing to look at adult magazines.
” (Miller 75). Jim Exon, a democratic senator from Nebraska, wants to pass a decency billregulating the Internet. If the bill passes, certain commercial servers that postpictures of unclad beings, like those run by Penthouse or Playboy, would of coursebe shut down immediately or risk prosecution. The same goes for any amateurweb site that features nudity, sex talk, or rough language. Posting any dirty wordsin a Usenet discussion group, which occurs routinely, could make one liable for a$50,000 fine and six months in jail. Even worse, if a magazine that commonly runssome of those nasty words in its pages, The New Yorker for instance, decided topost its contents on-line, its leaders would be held responsible for a $100,000 fineand two years in jail. Why does it suddenly become illegal to post something thathas been legal for years in print? Exon’s bill apparently would also “criminalizeprivate mail,” .
.. “I can call my brother on the phone and say anything–but if I sayit on the Internet, it’s illegal” (Levy 53). Congress, in their pursuit of regulations, seems to have overlooked the fact that themajority of the adult material on the Internet comes from overseas.
Although manyU.S. government sources helped fund Arpanet, the predecessor to the Internet,they no longer control it. Many of the new Internet technologies, including theWorld Wide Web, have come from overseas. There is no clear boundary betweeninformation held in the U.
S. and information stored in other countries. Data held inforeign computers is just as accessible as data in America, all it takes is the click ofa mouse to access. Even if our government tried to regulate the Internet, we haveno control over what is posted in other countries, and we have no practical way toThe Internet’s predecessor was originally designed to uphold communications aftera nuclear attack by rerouting data to compensate for destroyed telephone lines andservers. Today’s Internet still works on a similar design.
The very nature thisdesign allows the Internet to overcome any kind of barriers put in its way. If amajor line between two servers, say in two countries, is cut, then the Internet userswill find another way around this obstacle. This obstacle avoidance makes itvirtually impossible to separate an entire nation from indecent information in othercountries. If it was physically possible to isolate America’s computers from the restof the world, it would be devastating to our economy. Recently, a major university attempted to regulate what types of Internet access itsstudents had, with results reminiscent of a 1960’s protest.
A research associate atCarnegie Mellon University conducted a study of pornography on the school’scomputer networks. Martin Rimm put together quite a large picture collection(917,410 images) and he also tracked how often each image had been downloaded(a total of 6.4 million).
Pictures of similar content had recently been declaredobscene by a local court, and the school feared they might be held responsible forthe content of its network. The school administration quickly removed access to allthese pictures, and to the newsgroups where most of this obscenity is suspected tocome from. A total of 80 newsgroups were removed, causing a large disturbanceamong the student body, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ElectronicFrontier Foundation, all of whom felt this was unconstitutional. After only half aweek, the college had backed down, and restored the newsgroups. This is a tinyexample of what may happen if the government tries to impose censorshipCurrently, there is software being released that promises to block children’s accessto known X-rated Internet newsgroups and sites. However, since most adults relyon their computer literate children to setup these programs, the children will be ableto find ways around them. This mimics real life, where these children would surelybe able to get their hands on an adult magazine.
Regardless of what types ofsoftware or safeguards are used to protect the children of the Information age,there will be ways around them. This necessitates the education of the children todeal with reality. Altered views of an electronic world translate easily into alteredviews of the real world.
“When it comes to our children, censorship is a far lessimportant issue than good parenting. We must teach our kids that the Internet is aextension and a reflection of the real world, and we have to show them how toenjoy the good things and avoid the bad things. This isn’t the government’sresponsibility.
It’s ours (Miller 76).” Not all restrictions on electronic speech are bad. Most of the major on-linecommunication companies have restrictions on what their users can “say.
” Theymust respect their customer’s privacy, however. Private E-mail content is off limitsto them, but they may act swiftly upon anyone who spouts obscenities in a publicSelf regulation by users and servers is the key to avoiding government imposedintervention. Many on-line sites such as Playboy and Penthouse have started toregulated themselves. Both post clear warnings that adult content lies ahead andlists the countries where this is illegal. The film and videogame industries subjectthemselves to ratings, and if Internet users want to avoid government imposedregulations, then it is time they begin to regulate themselves.
It all boils down toprotecting children from adult material, while protecting the first amendment rightGovernment attempts to regulate the Internet are not just limited to obscenity andvulgar language, it also reaches into other areas, such as data encryption. By nature, the Internet is an insecure method of transferring data. A single E-mailpacket may pass through hundreds of computers from its source to destination. Ateach computer, there is the chance that the data will be archived and someone mayintercept that data. Credit card numbers are a frequent target of hackers.Encryption is a means of encoding data so that only someone with the proper”Why do you need PGP (encryption)? It’s personal.
It’s private. And it’s no one’sbusiness but yours. You may be planning a political campaign, discussing ourtaxes, or having an illicit affair.
Or you may be doing something that you feelshouldn’t be illegal, but is. Whatever it is, you don’t want your private electronicmail (E-mail) or confidential documents read by anyone else. There’s nothingwrong with asserting your privacy. Privacy is as apple-pie as the Constitution. Perhaps you think your E-mail is legitimate enough that encryption is unwarranted.
If you really are a law-abiding citizen with nothing to hide, then why don’t youalways send your paper mail on postcards? Why not submit to drug testing ondemand? Why require a warrant for police searches of your house? Are you tryingto hide something? You must be a subversive or a drug dealer if you hide your mailinside envelopes. Or maybe a paranoid nut. Do law-abiding citizens have any needWhat if everyone believed that law-abiding citizens should use postcards for theirmail? If some brave soul tried to assert his privacy by using an envelope for hismail, it would draw suspicion. Perhaps the authorities would open his mail to seewhat he’s hiding. Fortunately, we don’t live in that kind of world, because everyoneprotects most of their mail with envelopes. So no one draws suspicion by assertingtheir privacy with an envelope.
There’s safety in numbers. Analogously, it wouldbe nice if everyone routinely used encryption for all their E-mail, innocent or not,so that no one drew suspicion by asserting their E-mail privacy with encryption.Think of it as a form of solidarity (Zimmerman).” Until the development of the Internet, the U.
S. government controlled most newencryption techniques. With the development of faster home computers and aworldwide web, they no longer hold control over encryption. New algorithms havebeen discovered that are reportedly uncrackable even by the FBI and the NSA.This is a major concern to the government because they want to maintain theability to conduct wiretaps, and other forms of electronic surveillance into thedigital age.
To stop the spread of data encryption software, the U.S. governmenthas imposed very strict laws on its exportation. One very well known example of this is the PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) scandal.PGP was written by Phil Zimmerman, and is based on “public key” encryption.This system uses complex algorithms to produce two codes, one for encoding andone for decoding. To send an encoded message to someone, a copy of that person’s “public” key is needed.
The sender uses this public key to encrypt thedata, and the recipient uses their “private” key to decode the message. AsZimmerman was finishing his program, he heard about a proposed Senate bill toban cryptography. This prompted him to release his program for free, hoping that itwould become so popular that its use could not be stopped. One of the originalusers of PGP posted it to an Internet site, where anyone from any country coulddownload it, causing a federal investigator to begin investigating Phil for violationof this new law. As with any new technology, this program has allegedly been usedfor illegal purposes, and the FBI and NSA are believed to be unable to crack thiscode. When told about the illegal uses of him programs, Zimmerman replies: “If I had invented an automobile, and was told that criminals used it to rob banks, Iwould feel bad, too. But most people agree the benefits to society that come fromautomobiles — taking the kids to school, grocery shopping and such — outweighCurrently, PGP can be downloaded from MIT.
They have a very complicated system that changes the location on the software to be sure that they are protected.All that needs to be done is click “YES” to four questions dealing with exportationand use of the program, and it is there for the taking. This seems to be a lot oftrouble to protect a program from spreading that is already world wide. Thegovernment wants to protect their ability to legally wiretap, but what good does itdo them to stop encryption in foreign countries? They cannot legally wiretapsomeone in another country, and they sure cannot ban encryption in the U.S.
The government has not been totally blind to the need for encryption. For nearlytwo decades, a government sponsored algorithm, Data Encryption Standard (DES),has been used primarily by banks. The government always maintained the ability todecipher this code with their powerful supercomputers.
Now that new forms ofencryption have been devised that the government can’t decipher, they areproposing a new standard to replace DES. This new standard is called Clipper, andis based on the “public key” algorithms. Instead of software, Clipper is a microchipthat can be incorporated into just about anything (Television, Telephones, etc.).
This algorithm uses a much longer key that is 16 million times more powerful thanDES. It is estimated that today’s fastest computers would take 400 billion years tobreak this code using every possible key. (Lehrer 378). “The catch: At the time ofmanufacture, each Clipper chip will be loaded with its own unique key, and theGovernment gets to keep a copy, placed in escrow. Not to worry, though theGovernment promises that they will use these keys to read your traffic only whenduly authorized by law. Of course, to make Clipper completely effective, the nextlogical step would be to outlaw other forms of cryptography (Zimmerman).
” “If privacy is outlawed, only outlaws will have privacy. Intelligence agencies haveaccess to good cryptographic technology. So do the big arms and drug traffickers.So do defense contractors, oil companies, and other corporate giants. But ordinarypeople and grassroots political organizations mostly have not had access toaffordable “military grade” public-key cryptographic technology. Until now.
PGPempowers people to take their privacy into their own hands. There’s a growingsocial need for it. That’s why I wrote it (Zimmerman).” The most important benefits of encryption have been conveniently overlooked bythe government. If everyone used encryption, there would be absolutely no waythat an innocent bystander could happen upon something they choose not to see.Only the intended receiver of the data could decrypt it (using public keycryptography, not even the sender can decrypt it) and view its contents.
Eachcoded message also has an encrypted signature verifying the sender’s identity. Thesender’s secret key can be used to encrypt an enclosed signature message, thereby”signing” it. This creates a digital signature of a message, which the recipient (oranyone else) can check by using the sender’s public key to decrypt it. This provesthat the sender was the true originator of the message, and that the message hasnot been subsequently altered by anyone else, because the sender alone possessesthe secret key that made that signature. “Forgery of a signed message is infeasible,and the sender cannot later disavow his signature(Zimmerman).” Gone would bethe hate mail that causes many problems, and gone would be the ability to forge adocument with someone else’s address. The government, if it did not have alteriormotives, should mandate encryption, not outlaw it.
As the Internet continues to grow throughout the world, more governments maytry to impose their views onto the rest of the world through regulations andcensorship. It will be a sad day when the world must adjust its views to conform tothat of the most prudish regulatory government. If too many regulations areinacted, then the Internet as a tool will become nearly useless, and the Internet as amass communication device and a place for freedom of mind and thoughts, willbecome non existent. The users, servers, and parents of the world must regulatethemselves, so as not to force government regulations that may stifle the bestcommunication instrument in history. If encryption catches on and becomes aswidespread as Zimmerman predicts it will, then there will no longer be a need forthe government to meddle in the Internet, and the biggest problem will work itselfout. The government should rethink its approach to the censorship and encryptionissues, allowing the Internet to continue to grow and mature. Emler-Dewitt, Philip.
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