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Government intervention on the internet

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://

Directory: /pub/pgp/dist/

Source: Essay UK -

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