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Peter Cochrane's Uncommon Sense: Crippling the WWW
Advocating an Internet police force?
The lawless are slowing down our communications. Peter Cochrane has some ideas as to what can be done...

For the past 15 years we have enjoyed a growing web of rich content and communications. Despite the madness of the dot-com bust, the freedom of communication and new business that this revolution has engendered has been huge with trillions saved in the B2B arena and the same potential in B2C, if only we could all get bandwidth.

At the height of this great and unrivaled success it is therefore paradoxical that the freedom we have quickly learned to enjoy and exploit is threatened by that same freedom.

Along with many other individuals and organisations I can report I am seeing a tidal wave of spam mailing and other disruptive action causing an increasing loss of productivity. In a few months I have gone from almost zero spam email to over 20 per day.

Some of the spam mail is legitimate advertising, which I can easily filter and reject. But the most troublesome seems to come out of the sex industry where the level of deviousness beggars belief. To date these people always send a JPEG or MPEG plus EXE attachments, which would be foolish to open. Then there is the virus brigade which uses email, MS Word and other file formats to spread their unwanted grief.

So far I have been able to cope, and so have my companies, with this unwanted tide of trouble. But I see SMEs and giant corporations gradually adopting draconian solutions that will ultimately cripple much of the WWW.

Instead of being able to walk into any company and finding DHCP LAN access freely available, company-by-company this facility is being closed down. Just being able to do email as a visitor, or do private email as an employee, or indeed having unbridled access to websites, is gradually being denied. As a result productivity and creativity gains are being lost and economies disadvantaged.

What can be done? It looks like a duality of net technology is in vogue. Simply put: an intranet is installed and dedicated to all company working, while an isolated internet access point is used for everything else. In some cases the intranet becomes a sector wide realisation with companies in the same business sharing a common infrastructure.

While I can understand how we got here, I can't say I like the solutions being adopted, as they seem tantamount to building separate highways for motorbikes, cars and trucks. It doesn't make any economic or operational sense. The real problem is the Internet and WWW have no central authority or organisation dedicated to self-defence.

I would sooner start a war and attack the people responsible, by bit and by atom, rather than see our new freedoms eroded and taken away. A police force with e-SWAT team capabilities is required to take out the various elements dedicated to engineering the economic collapse of individuals, companies, corporations and countries. We certainly should not be rolling over and giving up.

How could we do it? The first step ought to be the galvanising of all the ISPs to be responsible in the provision of service and the guarding of information highways and bit transfers. The second step could be the banning of individuals and groups responsible for any criminal activity such as viruses and denial of service attacks. The third step might be the creation of secure software that makes it very difficult to become a criminal or a victim. Guardians, gatekeepers, identifiers, encryption, reverse virus and worm technologies are all available or feasible but not implemented to date.

It has always seemed strange that the police forces and legal systems of the planet can cope with car crime, burglary, assault, fraud and all things physical but relatively speaking have no facility for or jurisdiction over the 'e' world.

Why are we not tracking down the criminals responsible for viral attacks? Why are we not tracking down those who deny companies service by flooding servers with unwanted messages? Why is there no specific criminal code applicable to the WWW? I think the answer to all this is obvious and it is clear it will be a very long time before we get an internet police force.

In previous eras of human history the wild and lawless have reigned for some time before being overcome by those focused on doing good. Vigilantes and kangaroo courts usually preceded the rule of law and order, with transitions that have been bloody and violent. It might just be that we are about to see history repeated yet again on yet another frontier.

If we do nothing we will see one of the most successful communication technologies we ever invented and deployed consigned to history within five years. The control freaks will fill the vacuum and our global freedom will be significantly impaired. I'm afraid the clock is ticking.

This column was typed on my laptop in my garden and sent via an 11Mbps Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b) link into via a 56Kbps modem.