Balancing Freedom and Safety on the Internet

By Jeremiah Ford
Jeremiah Ford
Jeremiah Ford
October 19, 2010 Updated: October 19, 2010

[xtypo_dropcap]T[/xtypo_dropcap]he computer and the Internet have been taken out of the “tech” corner and have evolved into a serious tool with serious issues associated with it. The Internet is increasingly becoming a great part of our daily life. This is increasing so fast and affecting so many people that governments are taking a much closer look at what is being done on the Internet.

It is now possible to hack into and control pacemakers for the human heart over the Internet. While this was actually discovered in 2008, it did not make many headlines until 2010.

At the end of this summer, technology websites and other media reported how a computer virus infecting an air-traffic control computer may have downed Spanair flight 5022.

Another recent example is the Stuxnet Virus. This is an advanced piece of computer programming, heavily disguised, and made with one very specific target: the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran.

These examples are serious threats. With threats to human life surfacing, the question of how much people should be allowed to do what they want on the Internet presents itself. Historically, the Internet (which has actually been around for over 40 years) was a “free-for-all” of sort. It was supposed to be like “International waters” where laws quickly become gray when data crosses borders.

Voice of America (VOA) hosted a live panel titled, “Online Freedom vs. National Security: Finding a Middle Ground,” on Oct. 13. This forum, coupled with live webcast, had a variety of speakers from both ends of this topic, media and government.

VOA was founded in 1942, and describes itself as “an international multimedia service funded by the U.S. government.” Today they are very active in both free speech in the media, as well as, topics in the world of current technology. A quick look at their home page reveals just how in touch they are with changes in Internet technology and international issues connected to it.

This forum covered a lot of ground on the subject of online freedom vs. national security: from computer criminals taking advantage of people, to governments spying on their own citizens, to international threats such as the Stuxnet worm. The issues covered affect a vast majority of the people on this planet.

The panelists all have expertise in technology, but from different sides of the playing field—government, research scientist, technology journalist. They all pretty much agree on the goal, despite their different point of view on how to get there. This gives us an optimistic view of how things may go in the future regarding both Internet security as well as people’s rights.

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