Net Accountability

The growing availability of Internet access in the last ten years has taken the assault on abortion into cyberspace. The onslaught didn't become less serious or venomous -- it just became intangible.

Consumer online services like America Online offered more than messaging capability, they became educational, informational tools that corraled common thinkers together. The Internet was the most laissez-faire medium available for the expression of ideas and interests. Hard-core pornography to harsh white supremacy sites: anything was fair game on the Net.

And the public took advantage.

Constantly advancing its purchasing, messaging and information-gathering-and-displaying powers, the Internet is playing a larger role in the decisions people make and the ideas people embrace. Thus, it is intruding more into real life, and in response, governments and courts have cracked down.

Increasingly, people across the world are being held accountable for their conduct and actions in the Internet's virtual realm.

A Feb. 4 story by Andrew Gumbel of "The Independent" in London offers some illuminating specifics on how authorities across the world penalize "irresponsible" use of the Internet.

Example 1: A software engineer from Shanghai, China, was sentenced to two years in prison in January for supplying a US-based dissident magazine with 30,000 mainland e-mail addresses. Lin Hai, 30, became the first known person to be punished in China in connection with dissent on the Internet.

Example 2: In the first case filed under a new cyber-stalking law in California, Gary Dellapenta was arrested in January for allegedly impersonating a woman on the Internet and saying she fantasized about being raped. Six men arrived at her apartment.

Example 3: In 1997, a British High Court injunction banned the publication on the Internet of a child abuse report by police and social services in Nottingham. The injunction failed to prevent other people from putting the information on their own websites. The document was a summary of the official inquiry report into a child abuse scandal in Nottingham in 1988. The British High Court decided that the report's publication on the Internet violated copyright.

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