Thursday, December 2, 2010

Danger in a Virtual World

In modern society, people have access to many things their parents and grandparents would have never been able to comprehend. With progress come many of its advantages and disadvantages. Today, the quality of healthcare has improved, computers have helped many do their jobs more efficiently and quickly, and people have access to mobile phones that can send a text message across the globe in seconds. Along with progress are many new evils such as identity thief, cyber warfare, and computer viruses. In this day and age, online security is of paramount importance. However, people do need to take responsibility for protecting their own private information on the internet. Because online privacy is an important right, the U.S. government should back away from unnecessary monitoring of the internet and let the people be responsible for their private, personal information.
To start off, what needs to be defined is what constitutes legitimate reasons why government must regulate the internet and why they should not. The first reason is to protect America’s databases that are important for national security. According to David Lambrecht, journalist with the St. Louis Dispatch-Post, the Pentagon databases are attacked at least 250,000 times an hour, which sums up to six million attacks a day. These attackers range from computer hackers to foreign intelligence agencies from around the globe (A1). This is a matter of national security. The government needs to regulate their own networks because countries such as Iran, North Korea, Russia, or China could be attempting to access classified information. This is the reason why the government must take down sites such as wikileaks. The hosts of that site have betrayed America by putting classified information out in the open where foreign intelligence agencies and terrorist groups can access that information within a few clicks of a mouse. The government has the right and responsibility to regulate the internet when it comes to classified documents.
Another reason to regulate the internet is to fight against internet crimes. These include computer hackers, cyber-terrorists, and those who sell child pornography. Jaak Aaviksoo, Minister of Defense in Estonia, said concerning a cyber-terrorist attack in Estonia, “Taking into account the tensions around the relocation of the monument and the street riots that broke out afterwards, the people who were news-thirsty could not get access to online news. At the same time, the bank transactions that in Estonia to more than 90 percent are carried out via Internet were not possible”(29). These are real threats to society. Aaviksoo stated that “Most of the attacks were carried out against Estonian governmental websites and servers, but also against Estonian news portals, against two biggest banks in Estonia, and later all of the other commercial banks as well as several Internet service providers and telecoms”(29). These are things that a society is dependent on. News is transmitted online in modern day society and banks now do their business on the internet. If the internet is attacked, it can have a major impact on governments and economies of across the globe. The government should have regulation over the internet to make sure things like this do not happen.
There are also legitimate concerns about the government controlling the internet. When a government is given a little more control over something, it only wants more control. This is the case of what happened in countries such as Iran, China, and the former Soviet Union. Farnaz Fassibi, writer for the Wall Street Journal, said concerning Iran, “Tracking internet crimes—from political dissent to pornography—has been a priority of the regime” (A1)In countries such as Iran, they just don’t track cyber-terrorists or computer hackers, they track down those who do not agree with their government officials. If the U.S. does the same thing, it would be a clear violation of freedom of speech in the United States. Daniel Calingaert, writer for the Policy Review, stated that "It is increasingly focused on impeding the spread of domestically generated content that authoritarian regimes find objectionable, such as news about government incompetence or online discussions about abuses of power, and obstructing the organization of political opposition,internet censorship and surveillance are used first and foremost by authoritarian regimes to silence their domestic critics and to prevent the emergence of political alternatives."(67) Iran and China are examples of those who censor content that criticizes their imperfect government and other viewpoints. There has never existed a perfect and, unless mankind learns to not disagree, there will never be one. That is just a fact of reality.
Another reason not to censor the internet is for the purpose of privacy. There is a lot more information out in the open then one thinks. For example, a major data broker, ChoicePoint, sold personal information of many people who used their services. According to USA Today reporters Jon Swartz and Byron Acohido, the company “sold sensitive information for at least 166,000 people to a Nigerian con artist posing as a debt collector”(par.2) What this means is that people need to be responsible where they put their private information. Choices have consequences. Scams are prevalence in American society and the American people need to be on the defensive end making sure they are not being cheated out of their money. Keeping the public educated on these issues and keeping people accountable concerning their personal information will be the only ways that true privacy will work. Reid Goldsborough, writer for Teacher Librarian, writes “One rule of thumb is that you should feel free to say what you think, but you should also think before you say it. No matter how careful you are, it is unavoidable that some degree of personal privacy must be compromised in our increasingly interconnected and digitized society” (par.8). We have freedom of speech. We must use it wisely. The internet would not need much regulation if people can regulate themselves and parents keep an eye out on what their children view on the internet. When it comes to regulating the internet, one needs to practice what is called “self-regulation.” Joe Cannataci and Jeanne Bonnici, who were involved in research at Law and Information Technology Research Unit at Malta University, defines it as that a person who enforces the rules and laws himself (3). America’s citizens need to follow a set of rules. Otherwise, the government will have to do it and it will be cumbersome. One of the ways that families can practice “self-regulation” is to monitor their children on the internet is using an online filter. If government chooses what is best for America’s children, they, not the parents, have become the ones raising them and becoming the ultimate teachers of children. Chris Hunter, a Ph.D candidate, wrote about an organization called the Bertelsmann Foundation who proposed a method ten years ago where parents could voluntarily rate content and filter a web site if they do not approve of a particular site (2). The benefit of having an online filter is that it gives parents control over what their children see on the internet. It takes the burden off the government from passing content regulation laws and giving that authority to the parents. Having one can also limit what one can view himself. If one does not like a website, then he can filter it or simply not view it. Why waste time and taxpayer money filing lawsuits on sites a few people find offensive? The money used in lawsuits like these needs to go off towards paying the national debt and building up America’s defenses, not to the emotional whim of a few people. If wants to see more freedom on the internet in America, it must be given to the people.
With a clear definition of what the government can and cannot regulate on the internet, how can the U.S. government deal with issues such as cyber terrorism and computer hackers? As anyone who has common sense knows, these are moral wrongs in society. Good people just do not do those things. The problem America has today is that it is not prepared to fight in a cyber war. Former national intelligence director Michael McConnell said, “’If the nation went to war today in a cyberwar, we would lose. We're the most vulnerable. We're the most connected. We have the most to lose’”(qtd. In Rockefeller and Snowe A15). What would happen if a virtual assault from a cyber-terrorist occurred? The United States would experience something similar to what happened in Estonia where business transactions will be down and no one can contact anyone else through e-mail or Facebook. The majority of Americans are dependent on computers and the internet. If the U.S. is attacked, we will not be prepared for it. U.S. Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe said, “These adversaries target our identities, our money, our businesses, our intellectual property, and our national security secrets. They often succeed. What's more, they have the potential to disrupt or disable vital information networks, which could cause catastrophic economic loss and social havoc. We are not prepared” (A15). These are real threats the government cannot just ignore in the name of privacy. When there is sufficient evidence that a man is plotting an attack, federal agents should attain a warrant (required under the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution) and arrest that individual. Then, agents are allowed to check his cell phone, computer, or anything relevant that can help them find any more information about the attack. If the government can develop a way to prevent cyber-terrorist attacks without compromising an innocent citizen’s privacy, that would be a step in the right direction.
What is the difference between fighting enemies based on the damage they can do economically and socially and those that simply want their voices to be heard? In 2009, the Islamic Republic of Iran held elections. After the results were announced, many citizens went to the streets and protested. How did the Iranian government respond to this? The government officials soon realized that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter were circulating information that rallied citizens across Iran and around the world against the regime. In response to this, the government slowed down internet connection. For many Iranians, it took them a half-hour to simply access an e-mail inbox. Facebook, Twitter and Youtube were banned from the country (Fassihi A1). This is an example of how far leaders will get to silence their critics. On the other hand, securities measures are needed to defend America’s networks from cyber-terrorists who want to do damage to this country. The CIA and the NSA cannot censor critics of the nation’s government leaders. This would violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and would not solve the problem of criminal hackers and cyber-terrorists with an agenda. The government censorhip of the internet violates the free speech rights of its citizens. An article from Policy Review says, “Internet censorship, for example, infringes on the rights of a great many citizens as content producers, not only as consumers, and online survallience allows authorities to monitor personal communications as well as to track what citizens read”(Calingaert 15). The big difference is that the CIA and NSA need to spend their time tracking down people such as Osama Bin Laden and other wanted fugitives, not spying on a conservative news writer in Washington, DC. If someone has written a critique of the U.S. government, the government needs to let it go. Freedom of speech prevails in a truly democratic society like the United States.
In closing, providing freedom of speech and freedom of what people want to view can bring a greater amount of freedom to America. The government should regulate the internet to protect it from criminal hackers and cyber-terrorists. They should never regulate it against different political views, pornography, or material people find offensive. It is the job of the individual to determine what he wants to write and view. If he does not like a site, then he should not view it. Parents have the responsibility to monitor what their children view on the internet. The less regulation on the internet, the more freedom of expression and speech there will be in America.

Works Cited
Aaviksoo, Jaak.”Cyber-Terrorism.” Vital Speeches of the Day 74.1(2008): 28-32. Academic Search Complete. Web. 29 Oct. 2010.
Calingaert, Daniel. “Authoritarianism vs. the internet.”Policy Review. 160(2010):63-75. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Oct. 2010.
Cannataci, Joseph and Jeanne Bonnici. “Can Self-Regulation satisfy the transnational requisite of Successul Internet Regulation?” BILETA. British & Irish Law, Education, and technology Association. 5-6 April 2002. Web.29 Oct. 2010
Fassihi, Farnaz. "Iranian Crackdown Goes Global." Wall Street Journal 03 Dec. 2009: A1. SIRS Researcher. Web. 26 Oct. 2010.
Goldsborough, Reid. “Are you Protecting Your Online Privacy.” Teacher Librarian. 37.5 (2010): 72.Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Nov. 2010.
Hunter, Christopher D. “Negotiating the Global Internet Rating and Filtering System: Opposing Views of the Bertelsmann Foundation’s Self-regulation of Internet Content Proposal.” CFP2000.Computers, Freedom, and Privacy 2000 Conference. n.d. Web. 1 Nov. 2010.
Lambrecht, Bill. “Cyber Security Becomes Priority.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch 13 Jun. 2010: A1. SIRS Researcher. Web. 26 Oct. 2010.
Rockefeller, Jay, and Olmypia Snowe. “Now is the Time to Prepare for Cyber war”. Wall Street Journal 2 April 2010: A15.SIRS Researcher. Web. 03 Nov 2010.
Swartz, Jon, and Byron Acohido. “Who’s Guarding your Data in the Cybervault?” USA Today 1 April.2007: n.pag. SIRS Reseacher. Web. 26 Oct. 2010.