posted Oct 10, 2000

F.B.I. Calls For Cyber Ethics Education
10/10/2000; 10:25:20 AM

'FBI agents are spreading a new gospel to parents and teachers, hoping they'll better educate youths that vandalism in cyberspace can be economically costly and just as criminal as mailbox bashing and graffiti spraying.

'The Justice Department and the Information Technology Association of America, a trade group, has launched the Cybercitizen Partnership to encourage educators and parents to talk to children in ways that equate computer crimes with old-fashioned wrongdoing.'

Hey, great! And you should listen to the FBI, because... ummm... no, trustworthy doesn't work.... setting good example (Carnivore)... nope... ummm, well give me some time here....

Seriously, though, there is some merit to this plan. When I was in elementary and middle school, I did a lot of pirating of software on my Commodore 64. I never really realized what that meant. (I can guarentee you that there was not much in the way of lost revenue there... I'd never have bought anything ) I think there is room for educating children.

But there is not much merit. We haven't got a cyber ethics code for adults yet! The article in the New York Times mentions "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's MP3's" as a law... well, that's not a statement of cyber ethics yet, that's a biased presumption of how a certain court case will come out... and laws and court cases still doesn't determine "ethics". (I know the FBI might like to teach our children that law begets ethics, but that's a truly dangerous idea that I wouldn't want taught to my children.)

The simple fact is, we don't know whether Napster is ethical or unethical (or as I believe, "it depends"), we don't know what constitutes vandalism (sure, there are some obvious cases, but would posting a nasty message on my Discussion area constitute "vandalism" or merely impolite behavior?), and we don't even know some things that seem obvious, like what "shutting down a web site" is (Was Bidder's Edge "shutting down" eBay, or just trying to benefit their customers, when they were crawling eBay? Were web crawlers behaving unethically when they were pounding on, or merely having technical issues?).

We should not hurry right now to teach our children "cyber ethics"... let's teach them ethics so they'll be ready to behave responsibly in the "cyber world", where the details may be immensely more complex but the principles of fair play are still there. Meanwhile, us so-called "mature" people should probably get our act together and figure out what ethics mean on the Internet. (I'm trying, are you?)


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