Essay, Research Paper: Internet IT

Computers

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The internet offers a huge wealth of information both good and bad,
unfortunately the vary nature of the internet makes policing this new domain
practically impossible. The internet began as a small university network in the
United States and has blossomed into a vast telecommunications network spanning
the globe. Today the internet is ruled by no governing body and it is an open
society for ideas to be developed and shared in. Unfortunately every society has
its seedy underside and the internet is no exception. To fully understand the
many layers to this problem, an understanding of net history is required. Some
thirty years ago the RAND corporation, Americas first and foremost Cold War
think-tank faced a strange strategic problem. The cold war had spawned
technologies that allowed countries with nuclear capability to target multiple
cities with one missile fired from the other side of the world. Post-nuclear
America would need a command and control network, linked from city to city,
state to state and base to base. No matter how thoroughly that network was
armored or protected, its switches and wiring would always be vulnerable to the
impact of atomic bombs. A nuclear bombardment would reduce any network to
tatters. Any central authority would be an obvious and immediate target for
enemy missiles. The center of a network would be the first place to go. So RAND
mulled over this puzzle in deep military secrecy and arrived at their solution.
In 1964 their proposed ideas became public. Their network would have no central
authority, and it would be designed from the beginning to operate while in
tatters. All the nodes in the network would be equal in status to all other
nodes, each node having its own authority to originate, pass and receive
messages. The messages themselves would be divided into packets, each packet
separately addressed. Each packet would begin at some specified source node and
end at some other specified destination node. The particular route that the
packet took would be unimportant, only the final results counted. Each packet
would be tossed around like a hot potato from node to node, more or less in the
direction of its destination, until it ended up in the proper place. If big
chunks of the network were blown away, which wouldn't matter, the packets would
still stay airborne, moving across the field by whatever nodes happened to
survive. This system was efficient in any means (especially when compared to the
phone system), but it was extremely tough. In the 1960's this concept was thrown
around by RAND, MIT and UCLA. In 1969 the first such node was installed in UCLA.
By December of 69, there were four nodes on the network, which was called
ARPANET, after its Pentagon sponsor. The nodes of the network were high-speed
supercomputers. (supercomputers at the time, desktop machines now) Thanks to
APRANET scientists and researchers could share one another's computer facilities
over long-distances. By the second year of its operation however, APRANET's
users had warped the high cost, computer sharing network into a dedicated,
high-speed, federally subsidized electronic post office. The main bulk of
traffic on ARPANET was not long-distance computing, it was news and personal
messages. The incredibly expensive network using the fastest computers on the
planet was a message base for gossip and schmooze. Throughout the 70s this very
fact made the network grow, its software allowed many different types of
computers to become part of the network. Since the network was decentralized it
was difficult to stop people from barging in and linking up. In fact nobody
wanted to stop them from joining up and this branching complex of networks came
to be known as the internet. In 1984 the National Science Foundation got into
the act, and the new NSFNET set a blistering pace for technical advancement,
linking newer, faster, shinier supercomputers through thicker, faster links.
ARPANET formally expired in 1989, a victim of its own success, but its users
scarcely noticed as ARPANET's functions not only continued but improved. In 1971
only four nodes existed, today tens of thousands of nodes make up the network
and 35 million of users make up the internet community. The internet is and
institution that resists institutionalization. The internet community, belonging
to everyone yet no-one, resembles our own community in many ways, and is
susceptible to many of the same pressures. Business people want the internet put
on sounder financial footing. Government people want the Internet more fully
regulated. Academics want it dedicated exclusively to scholarly research.
Military people want it spyproof and secure. All these sources of conflict
remain in a stumbling balance and so far the internet remains in a thrivingly
anarchial condition. This however is a mixed blessing. Today people pay ISP's or
Internet Service Providers for internet access. ISP's usually have fast
computers with dedicated connections to the internet. ISP's now more than ever
are becoming the backbone of the internet. The average netcitizen uses their
computer to call and ISP, and the netcitizens computer temporarily becomes a
part of the internet. The user is free to browse or transfer information with
others. Most ISP's even allow their users to set up permanent homepages on the
ISP's computer for the whole internet community to view. This is where many
ethical and moral questions arise regarding the internet. Not every user wants
his homepage to deal with the spin rates of atoms or the airspeed of South
African swallows. Some users wish to display "objectionable" material
on their homepages. This may have started out as a prank to some, but now net-
porn is an offshoot industry on the information superhighway. Companies like
Playboy and Hustler run their own servers that are permanent parts of the
internet, and on their pages they charge user to view Playboy and Hustler type
material. What makes matters worse is evolution of the internet newsgroup
system. USENET in its infancy was ARPANET's news and message component. Today
USENET is a huge database with thousands of newsgroups that all internet users
have access to. Millions use groups like alt.comp.disscussion.games to share
ideas, and millions use groups like alt.binaries.pictures.erotica.teen to share
ideas and pictures that are less family oriented. Average users can also set up
homepages on ISP's. In fact, most packages ISP's offer usually include space for
your own homepage. They are easy to create and the ISP's maintain them for free
so the entire online community can see what you have to say. Unfortunately not
everyone wants to set up homepages dealing with the spin rates of atoms or the
airspeeds of South American swallows. Most ISP's are more than willing to set up
homepages dealing with the most gratuitous of acts aimed at very specialized
audiences. This is where the problem of net censorship arises. It is true that
there is a wealth of pornography and other indecent material online for all to
see. All that a person has to do is to type in an "indecent" word and
modern search engines will point to sites where the word crops up. Typing in a
popular for letter expletive into two of the most popular search engines yielded
17224 hits for Lycos and 40000 for AltaVista, the worlds biggest search engine.
However both of these engines have over 60 million cataloged web pages. Although
this material makes up less that 1% of all messages on USENET or pages on the
world-wide-web, that is still a staggering number as there are millions of
messages and web-pages on the internet. Most of this material is extremely hard
to access as advanced knowledge of computers is required, however it is the
youth in most families that know how to use the computer best. Problems arise
when minors left alone on the computer are free to browse some of the most
graphic pictures ever taken, or to learn the easy way to make a pipe bomb from
house-hold ingredients. The media has a tendency to magnify certain aspects of
reality while completely forgetting about others. The mass media so far has not
been too kind to the internet. Mainly because television and print magazines
view it as a long-term threat encroaching in on their market. The July 3 1995
article of Time magazine featured a cover story labeled "CYBERPORN".
Spanning eight pages the article tries to expose the "red light
district" of the information superhighway. It was the publishing of this
article in a high- profile magazine that sparked the whole cyberporn debate.
When Time published a cover story on Internet pornography a certain amount of
controversy was to be expected. Computer porn, after all, is a subject that
stirs strong passions. So does the question of whether free speech on the
Internet should be sharply curtailed, as some Senators and Member of Congress
have proposed. But the "flame war" that ensued on the computer
networks when the story was published soon gave way to a full-blown and highly
political conflagration. The main focus of discontent was a new study,
"Marketing Pornography on the Information Superhighway", purportedly
by a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, which was a centerpiece
of Time's story. In the course of the debate, serious questions have been raised
regarding the study's methodology, the ethics by which its data were gathered
and even its true authorship. Marty Rimm, who wrote it while an undergraduate at
Carnegie Mellon, grossly exaggerated the extent of pornography on the Internet
by conflating findings from private adult-bulletin-board systems that require
credit cards for payments (and are off limits to minors) with those from the
public networks (which are not). Many of Rimm's statistics, are either
misleading or meaningless; for example, the study's now frequently cited claim
that 83.5 percent of the images stored on the USENET newsgroups are
pornographic. A more telling statistic is that pornographic files represent less
than one- half of 1 percent of all messages posted on the Internet. Other
critics point out that it is impossible to count the number of times those files
are downloaded; the network measures only how many people are presented with the
opportunity to download, not how many actually do. Rimm has developed his own
credibility problems. When interviewed by Time for the cover story, he refused
to answer questions about his life on the grounds that it would shift attention
away from his findings. But quite a bit of detail has emerged, much of it
gathered by computer users on the Internet. It turns out that Rimm is no
stranger to controversy. In 1981, as a 16-year-old junior at Atlantic City High
School, he conducted a survey that purported to show that 64 percent of his
school's students had illicitly gambled at the city's casinos. Widely publicized
(and strongly criticized by the casinos as inaccurate), the survey inspired the
New Jersey legislature to raise the gambling age in casinos from 18 to 21.
According to the Press of Atlantic City, his classmates in 1982 voted Rimm most
likely to be elected President of the U.S. The next year, perhaps presciently,
they voted him most likely to overthrow the government. More damaging to Rimm
are two books that he wrote, excerpts of which have begun to circulate on the
Internet. One is a salacious privately published novel, An American Playground,
based on his experience with casinos. The other, also privately published, is
titled "The Pornographer's Handbook: How to Exploit Women, Dupe Men &
Make Lots of Money". Rimm says it's a satire; others saw it offering
practical advice to adult-bulletin-board operators about how to market
pornographic images effectively. Neither Carnegie Mellon nor the Georgetown Law
Journal has officially backed away from the study (although the university is
forming a committee to look into it). Rimm's faculty adviser, Marvin Sirbu, a
professor of engineering and public policy, continues to support him, saying the
research has been deliberately mischaracterized by people with a political
agenda. But Sirbu himself has been attacked by Carnegie Mellon colleagues for
not properly supervising his student and for helping him secretly gather data
about the pornography-viewing habits of the university's students. Meanwhile,
some of the researchers listed as part of Rimm's "team" now say their
involvement was minimal; at least one of them had asked Rimm to remove his name.
Brian Reid Ph.D who is the director of the Network System Laboratory at Digital
Equipment Corporation is the author of the network measurement software tools
that Rimm used to compile his statistics. He had this to say about the Rimm
study: "I have read a preprint of the Rimm study of pornography and I am so
distressed by its lack scientific credibility that I don't even know where to
begin critiquing it." As a rule, computer-wise citizens of cyberspace tend
to be strong civil libertarians and First Amendment absolutists. Some clearly
believe that Time, by publicizing the Rimm study, was contributing to a mood of
popular hysteria, sparked by the Christian Coalition and other radical-right
groups, that might lead to a crackdown. It would be a shame, however, if the
damaging flaws in Rimm's study obscured the larger and more important debate
about hard-core porn on the Internet. So as a response to the hysteria
wide-sweeping legislational machinery was put into motion and Senators Exon and
Coats drafted up the infamous Communications Decency Act. Section 502:
"Whoever ... uses any interactive computer service to display in a manner
available to a person under 18 years of age, any comment, request, suggestion,
proposal, image, or other communication that, in context, depicts or describes,
in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards,
sexual or excretory activities or organs... shall be fined under Title 1, United
States Code, or imprisoned not more than two years...." This act outlaws
any material deemed "obscene" and imposes fines up to $100 000 and
prison terms up to two years on anyone who knowingly makes "indecent"
material available to children under 18, as directly quoted from section 502.
The measure had problems from the start. The key issue to senators like Exon is
whether to classify the internet as a print medium like newspapers, or a
broadcast medium like television. Unfortunately it is a communications medium
and should be treated as such. If such legislation was passed to control
telephone conversations, many teenagers would get the electric chair at age
fifteen. The Communications Decency Act never passed, but a line in the
telecommunications bill that did pass denounces anything "indecent"
being transmitted. The legal ramifications are still being fought over in
government as the vague nature of the clause leaves it open to multiple
interpretations. As the issue stands now, there are only two real solutions. One
would be the adoption of government controls that would infringe on peoples
rights to free speech, but also make the net a safe place to be. The other would
for parents to use filtering software to control what their computer is
receiving.

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