The internet has been around in the mainstream since the early 90’s… but cyberlaw- hmm, not so much. Finally, governments are catching on the reality of this beast called the internet. Specifically, cyber attacks, cybercrimes, and cyberbullying have been a huge fear as of late. As our world becomes more wired and interdependent, the smallest wrench in the system can cost billions of dollars as well as the loss of extremely valuable information. The internet also could easily be used as a tool to harm innocent persons.
The fear of cyberattacks specifically prompted the US to consider passing the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act (also known as the ‘internet kill switch’). China, to combat dissent, is creating an ‘Internet real name system’ to reduce anonymity on the internet. I am not advocating suppressing dissent or freedom of speech, but it’s interesting to analyze the ways countries are handling the unique situations that the internet presents. For example, it is much easier to ruin someone’s reputation on the internet than in print media. On print, it costs a lot more money to re-print an article and once the news is old, it is stored somewhere in a corner on a microfilm. The internet is another story. Information could be easily copied and pasted and Emailed and posted. Defamatory content could spread all over the internet in minutes. And when that news is old, it is easy google-able by employers, friends, and pretty much everyone and their mothers. On top of all that, such defamatory behavior could be done anonymously (so maybe a database of names might be a good thing for this purpose?) This begs the question- should our First Amendment rights be different when it comes to formulating cyberlaw? Is there more at stake when freedom of speech is abused on the internet to merit more restrictions on our First Amendment?
What’s the solution? How do we balance freedom of speech, our rights to be let alone, and our right to privacy? I don’t claim to have answer, but I do hope that over time we can come up with one. I will say that I do believe that due to the nature of the internet, that there should be a different set of laws and maybe even a different approach to balances of constitutional rights. I am a huge admirer and proponent of Lawrence Lessig’s view on cyberlaw. It’s about time that we take a new approach to the law for the new information age.