Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Ugly Truth

The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.” – Eric Schmidt

I caught an episode of Criminal Minds the other day and it told the story of a serial killer who stalked his victims through their social networking sites. He followed them through information from their tweets and status messages and posed as a broadband salesman who hooked their computers up, all the while hacking it and installing hidden cameras in their homes. He would then watch them and figure out their routines, eventually breaking into their homes, and strangling them to death while streaming the feed online through the hidden cameras to multiple viewers.

Obviously, when the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit finally tracked the guy down (as he was about to kill another woman and again streaming it online), he was arrested for murder. The viewers of the site, who were flagged by their technician, were brought in for questioning and charged as accessories. Should the web of liability, however, end there? Are they the only people who should be held responsible in that scenario? What of the servers used, which facilitated the transmission of the live feed? Shouldn’t they be expected to ensure that the content of what they make available to the public is legal? Has net neutrality become a safe haven for the technologically savvy criminal?

Maybe we have bitten off more than we can chew. In our excitement and awe at what can be done in an alternate world that links the global community and grants unhampered access to information to its patrons, we have overlooked possible areas of abuse and failed to install measures of regulation to guard against them. We have gone far and worked on developing technology further, without making sure that our laws are up to speed with these advances, to the end that this technology be prevented from being misused. Its greatest asset is fast becoming a great liability to law enforcement, and unless something is done to bridge the gaps which criminals and opportunists have so brilliantly exploited, we may find ourselves at the mercy of a monster that we may have well created ourselves.

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