In this day and age of super high-speed networking and digital communications, just about anything on any subject can be found on the Internet. Some materials, such as online libraries are helpful, some, such as student’s personal homepages are fairly useless, and some sites, such as online medical references, can be lifesaving. All these sites have a right to be on the web. However, there are also sites that could be detrimental to people, such as pornography sites, pages detailing the manufacture of illegal drugs, and instructions on how to build high explosives and other illegal devices. With the number of these types increasing daily, parents and lawmakers alike are becoming concerned for the well being of the public, specifically the younger sector of the population. This raises the issue of how safe the Internet is. With the wealth of useful information available on the Internet also comes dangerous and harmful information regarding everything from stealing cable to manufacturing high explosives, as well as child pornography and invasion of privacy. If the wrong information fell into the wrong hands, disaster could result.
One of the issues most common in the papers today is pornography available on the Internet. There are two main types of pornography available on the Internet: regular and child pornography. Regular porn is rationalized by the following argument: The idea that a TV show or lyric can transform a healthy and connected child into a dangerous monster is absurd. The same goes for the Internet. The idea that certain material on the net can cause a child to grow up to be a child molester is primarily the invention of politicians, who use it to frighten and rally. Religious groups who use it to teach belief to the young, and journalists, who use it to regain their once powerful position in American society. The Internet should be treated with respect, and used with responsibility, just like any other form of media. This type of porno should be allowed on the net, but all sites should require a password of some kind. However, the other type of pornography, child porn, is much more dangerous as well as illegal. This type of pornography often involves people that are willing to spend great amounts of time, money, and energy to gradually seduce their targets, as well as people that immediately engage in sexually explicit conversations with children. Often time’s children are indirectly victimized through chat rooms and e-mail, or directly by being coerced into a real life meeting. This type of direct meeting can ultimately result in the child’s death. Also, children may come across pornographic material in any one of the alt.sex news groups. These news groups provide a public forum for the discussion of various topics. Several of the alt.sex news groups are alt.sex.incest, alt.sex.beastiality, and alt.sex.pedophilia. Although there are bills providing penalties for the knowing transmission of indecent material to minors through a remote computer or other means, child pornography is still a major problem and threat in cyberspace
There are, however, some types of sites that have content that could be hazardous to the public in general, not just children, and have no place on public forums. One example of this type of site is the “Books for a Free People”. This site contains various books for download, including the “Big Book of Mischief”, which has details on how to build explosives, and the “Book of Fun”, which gives detailed instructions on how to do illegal things such as stealing HBO and eavesdropping on cellular telephone conversations. While these two acts are not physically dangerous, they are still illegal. However, the “Big Book of Mischief” has explicit instructions on how to manufacture such dangerous compounds as nitroglycerin.
Nitroglycerin is one of the most sensitive explosives, if it is not the most sensitive. Although it is possible to make it safely, it is difficult. Many a young anarchist has been killed or seriously injured while trying to make the stuff. When Nobel’s factories make it, many people were killed by the all-to-frequent factory explosions. Usually, as soon as it is made, it is converted into a safer substance, such as dynamite. An idiot who attempts to make nitroglycerin would use the following procedure:
Distilled water eye-dropper
Table salt 100 ml beaker
Sodium bicarbonate 200-300 ml beakers (2)
Concentrated nitric ice bath container
acid (13 ml) ( a plastic bucket serves well )
Concentrated sulfuric centigrade thermometer
acid (39 ml)
glycerin blue litmus paper
Following this, the book gives step by step instructions on how to use the above materials in making nitroglycerin, and although it states that this is a very dangerous explosive to be making, many bored teenagers would just ignore the warnings, reasoning that they will just be extra careful. Information on many other types of explosives can also be found online. One example surfaced shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing. A message was transmitted on the Internet that offered information detailing the components and materials needed to construct a bomb identical to the one used in Oklahoma City, as well as complete details on how the bomb was used, and how it could be better. At the end of the message a disclaimer was added that stated that the information was only to be used for educational purposes, theoretically relieving the author of the message of any legal responsibility.
Another large concern is the issue of privacy. One assumes that when they send an e-mail message, the only other person that will read the message is the intended recipient. This is a common myth held by the average person, as e-mail messages are quite easy to intercept and scan for key words, and can be done on a large scale. Although the Electronic Communications Act of 1986 provides stiff penalties for anyone whom intentionally intercepts or attempts to intercept an electronic message (e-mail). However, this still does not stop illegal monitoring of messages by individuals, as it is widely believed that system operators often read messages and files without authorization. This act also allows Internet providers the right to intercept, disclose, or use electronic communications while engaged in an activity necessary to service or protection of rights and property. This shows that even the ECA does not entirely protect your privacy. Another threat to privacy is found in the agencies thought to be secure. In 1998, Internal Revenue Service papers were released showing that it’s employees had been using IRS computers to illegally prowl through the tax files of family, friends, neighbors, and celebrities since 1989. Another example can be seen at the DMV where police employees have been known to illegally trace license plates for personal use.
A final danger on the net is the threat of online scams. With about 15 million people that are now able to participate in online forums, discussion groups, and conferences with other strangers that share a particular interest, it is quite easy for the clever scam artist to choose a potential victim. Fraudulent sellers use these various on-line services to promote bogus stock offerings, credit repair services, and other far fetched ideas or offers. More chances for Internet scam artists to claim victims can be found in the on-line classified advertising. No matter where you read these, you are likely to find some that are false, such as ads promoting “miracle” weight loss products and programs. A good way to avoid being ripped off by these scams is to use your common sense: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
In the digital age, we are offered a wide variety of conveniences and services through the Internet. Even though most of these can be useful, there are many evils out there in the digital world. Although there is probably no way we can ever make the Internet one hundred percent safe, we can use our good judgement to keep ourselves out of harms way. This includes knowing the tip-offs for online scams, never giving your credit card numbers out to sources that you don’t trust, and most importantly, monitoring your child when he or she is on the computer. It is up to the Internet user to keep themselves safe from the dangers that lurk on-line.