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December 20, 2010

Internet Piracy Essay

We have come to think of the internet as a place of anonymity. A place where we can lose ourselves for a few hours and do things we could not normally do. We can study the world news without it being filtered for the “American” view. We can learn how to make all sorts of items using knowledge that only privileged members of our military know. We can have an entirely new life-style on the internet. Unfortunately, the freedom to do every one of the things I listed above is rapidly disappearing. From watching what you download, to installing software without your, various companies and government agencies are monitoring your every move on the internet.

When most of the world’s internet users surf the internet, they experience what has become all too common in today’s digital world, spam. Unsolicited advertising (also known as spam) is taking over the internet. This spam comes in many forms. It ranges from junk e-mail to the less obvious hidden programs that install themselves on a computer.

Spam e-mail is a multi-million dollar industry. This is due to the fact that there are billions of e-mails sent daily to unsuspecting victims. If only one out of every thousand people answer these e-mails it still constitutes enormous revenue for the companies responsible. Some companies have tried to create so called spam-blockers. The problem with this approach is that spam is almost completely unidentifiable to a computer. The computer reads all e-mail as e-mail and therefore cannot successfully filter any one type of e-mail from another.

Spam e-mail is bad enough, but spyware is more devious. Spyware is a type of software that installs itself on a computer. Spyware is often attached to other programs a person might download, but it can be a stand-alone product. Spyware will often install itself without the user’s approval, and in a majority of cases the users are completely unaware of the numerous amounts of unapproved software on their computers.

There are currently extremely few regulations on what an internet service provider (ISP) can do with the information a user downloads. In fact, many ISPs watch the information being transferred to the computer on their networks. This is especially true for big businesses, schools, and government affiliated computers. Some schools’ ISPs reserve the right to search any student’s computer on suspicion of illegal software. This is a direct violation of our 4th amendment rights against illegal searches and seizures.

While it has been suggested many times, and in fact even used in some circumstances, to use digital information as evidence the question that always remains is this: What is the extend of “justifiable” invasion of privacy? People want to know that they have security from hackers and child pornographers but they also want to know that the next “semi-legal” e-mail they send, or the next song they download won’t come back to haunt them in court. This is where the crux of the matter lies for the laws concerning internet privacy are ever changing.

For example, if the FBI is given the right to watch websites where it is known that illegal software is being trafficked, and they are logging the IP addresses of users who frequent the site, are they allowed by law to subpoena those users’ ISPs into releasing the e-mail messages of those users? If the courts grant prosecutors the right to seize e-mail messages, then lobby groups could possibly lobby that the entire hard drive of the computer be kept as evidence. If this were not enough they could reasonably allow they FBI to start distributing key-loggers, which keep a log of every stroke of the keyboard on the computer. To do this the FBI would need either force every American to install their spy software, or they would have to hack every computer they wanted to watch and put this software on without the user’s knowledge. The question I have to ask myself is: Isn’t this the exact type of behavior that we were hoping to avoid?

All information taken from an interview with Chris Bertsch on September 10th 2003.

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