Legal Issues in Technology
By Dr. John Peterson, PhD, FPA-BM Chairman of the Board
Information technology has being an active participant of our lives for the past thirty years, and has being even more active on recent years with the increasing dependency of the Internet to operate business, for education, and individual needs. Legal issues in technology are becoming more common these days as consequence of these vast activities.
The Internet is an international network of interconnected computers. It is the outgrowth of what began in 1969 as a military program called “ARPANET,” which was designed to enable computers operated by the military, defense contractors, and universities conducting defense related research to communicate with one another by redundant channels even if some portions of the network were damaged in a war. While the ARPANET no longer exists, it provided an example for the development of a number of civilian networks that, eventually linking with each other, and now enables tens of millions of people to communicate with one another and to access vast amounts of information from around the world.
Anyone with access to the Internet may take advantage of a wide variety of communication and information retrieval methods. These methods are constantly evolving and difficult to categorize precisely.
The best known category of communication over the Internet is the World Wide Web, which allows users to search for and retrieve information stored in remote computers, as well as, in some cases, to communicate back to designated sites. In concrete terms, the Web consists of a vast number of documents stored in different computers all over the world. Some of these documents are simply files containing information.
However, more elaborate documents, commonly known as Web “pages,” are also prevalent. Each has its own address rather like a telephone number. Navigating the Web is relatively straightforward. A user may either type the address of a known page or enter one or more keywords into a commercial “search engine” in an effort to locate sites on a subject of interest. A particular Web page may contain the information sought by the “surfer,” or, through its links, it may be an avenue to other documents located anywhere on the Internet. Users generally explore a given Web page, or move to another, by clicking a computer “mouse” on one of the page’s icons or links. Access to most Web pages is freely available, but some allow access only to those who have purchased the right from a commercial provider. The Web is thus comparable, from the readers’ viewpoint, to both a vast library including millions of readily available and indexed publications and a sprawling mall offering goods and services.
From the publishers’ point of view, it constitutes a vast platform from which to address and hear from a worldwide audience of millions of readers, viewers, researchers, and buyers. Any person or organization with a computer connected to the Internet can “publish” information. Publishers include government agencies, educational institutions, commercial entities, advocacy groups, and individuals. Publishers may either make their material available to the entire pool of Internet users, or confine access to a selected group, such as those willing to pay for the privilege.
Legal and Ethical Problems Found on the Use of the Internet
There is today a major worry about the moral, ethical and social legalities that have arisen over the last decade. The common legal and ethical problems found on the use of the Internet are related to search engines, filtering, pornography, and access; databases have questionable ethical and legal problems associated with data mining, privacy, and security; Internet communications use of e-mail, social networking, and monitoring; Internet gaming has unsolved legal and ethical issues with regulation, violence, addiction, gender stereotyping, and educational games. Legal and ethical issues are also present on emergent new information technology related issues such as intellectual property, e-waste, and software piracy.
Internet and Free Speech
The risk of having an open information superhighway, as the Internet is often called, is the possibility of all things happening on it. There are advocates for all kinds of opinions available, online or offline, published or unpublished, to advice about the benefits or dangers of this massive vehicle of communication. Today, it is difficult to find someone that does not hold a personal opinion about the good or evil of the Internet. New markets are been created because of these ethical positions, not only for economical gains, but for political and cultural stands on the issues as well. Many articles have been written about the legal issues in technology, and especially the ones related to the Internet. This paper will focus on the positive and negative views of the Internet as a vehicle of free speech, and the influence of this open and democratic media in the school environment.
Pro Free Speech
Authors such as the President and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology Leslie Harris are champions for an Internet free of regulations or censorship. The Internet is at a crossroads. Down one path lies a future where digital technology enhances constitutional freedoms, spurs innovations in expression and entrepreneurship, and fulfills its ultimate promise of connecting and empowering the world. Down the other? A future where the Internet is turned against users, where government spying runs unchecked, and where innovation is stifled by a closed and locked system, controlled by a handful of entrenched players (Harris, 2008).
The early Internet creators held a vision of freedom to the new era ahead. The Internet was meant to be unrestrained by the world’s governments, without censorship and boundaries. The vision today is compromised by political agendas as governments of all nations are following a trend on creating regulations to control and restrain the use of the Internet. “Even so, in much of the world, the open Internet remains a powerful tool for human rights and democracy as well as economic growth” (Harris, 2008).
In the United States an uncensored Internet is prevailing because of the U.S. Supreme Court unanimous ruling in Reno v. ACLU revoking the 1996 Communications Decency Act (CDA), a federal law that outlawed “indecent” communications online. By doing this the Court “declared the Internet to be a free speech zone, deserving of at least as much First Amendment protection as that afforded to books, newspapers and magazines” (ACLU, n.d.).
According to the ACLU (n.d.) – the major winners on the case and a leading force behind the movement for free speech on the Internet –
“The government, the Court said, can no more restrict a person’s access to words or images on the Internet than it could be allowed to snatch a book out of a reader’s hands in the library, or cover over a statue of a nude in a museum” (ACLU n.d.).
Pro Internet Regulation
Political groups that have the desire to regulate the Internet find justifications on the common legal and ethical problems found today on the use of the Internet, and they include search engines, filtering, pornography, and access; databases have questionable ethical and legal problems associated with data mining, privacy, and security; Internet communications use of e-mail, social networking, and monitoring; Internet gaming has unsolved legal and ethical issues with regulation, violence, addiction, gender stereotyping, and educational games. Legal and ethical issues are also present on emergent new information technology related issues such as intellectual property, e-waste, and software piracy.
One of the best examples for a movement to police the Internet that has had a strong impact on political circles is the website “Enough Is Enough”. Donna Rice Hughes (n.d.),
President and Chairman wrote,
The Internet has revolutionized our lives, and, despite its many benefits, the Internet has opened the door for predators to sexually exploit unsuspecting children. In the digital age, every child is just one click away from obscenely graphic and addictive pornography, and new threats–like cyberbullying and ‘sexting’–also flourish, invading the ‘Age of Innocence’ every child deserves. No child is immune to these risks online. Parents and other adults are the first line of defense against online threats, however, many feel uninformed or ill-equipped to deal with evolving issues of Internet safety and need credible outside help.
All these issues with pornography, pedophilia, and other dubious legal and moral presences on the Internet have a segment of users to fight back organizing movements such as The Safe Internet Alliance. Joy Howell (2009, September 9) wrote, “Online safety for kids is so important, because what they put online now could undermine their privacy, safety and security now and later, and follow them throughout their lives. We need to educate kids now so they don’t compromise their security unwittingly” (p. 1).
The New York State Police (n.d.) stated on their website,
A 1998 investigation showed that the Internet is becoming the medium of choice for pedophiles. The 18-month probe uncovered 1,500 individuals who used the Internet to transmit child pornography. This investigation amassed a collection of over 200,000 shockingly graphic pornographic images of infants and young children engaged in sexual acts (NYSP, n.d.).
Obviously crimes are committed with the use of the Internet, and as any other venue of communication it has to be protected. Perhaps some basic regulation that would prevent cases like the ones described above is necessary, but this would mean that some sort of censorship would take place affecting the freedom of speech that is core to the Internet existence.
It is important to observe that the First Amendment protecting free speech was created at a time in which was impossible to conceive the existence of a information technology like the one existing today, but the concept and the spirit of the First Amendment is current, and the US Supreme Court has ruled accordingly. According to Professor Julie Van Camp (2005), there are exceptions to freedom of expression.
Courts sometimes justify these exceptions as speech which causes substantial harm to the public, or speech which the Founding Fathers could not have intended to protect, or traditions that have long been part of the common law tradition from England that was the basis of our American legal system (Van Camp, 2005). Among these exceptions are: (a) defamation, (b) causing panic, (c) fighting words,(d) incitement to crime, (e) sedition, (f) obscenity, (g) offense, and (h) establishment of religion (Van Camp, 2005).
Technology at Schools
A progressive rising on the use of technology at schools has brought new issues and concerns to teachers and administrators. According to Susan Brooks-Young (2007) one solution for these concerns should be to model and teach legal and ethical practice related to technology use. “Encouraging legal and ethical behavior requires more than a signature and a few lessons on acceptable use. You need to model this kind of behavior every time technology is used” (Young, 2007).
There are also concerns that have an ethical impact in the way school administrators will fund technology in classrooms. The Technological Horizons in Education Journal (2001) claimed that The National School Boards Association has released the results of an online survey regarding technology and advertising in the classroom.
The survey was given to more than 300 teachers, school technology staff members, and school board members. Fifty-one percent of respondents believed it acceptable for school districts to use technology products that contain advertisements in the classroom.
However, 67 percent said school districts should not use their Web sites to sell products to the community. Ninety-six percent of respondents said that using computers for learning improves students’ academic achievement. Ninety-three percent said that there should be minimum technology skill standards implemented for all teachers, and 76 percent feel that their district’s teachers are not adequately prepared to use technology in the classroom (p. 3).
The influence of legal and ethical aspects on technology is present in various areas of educational disciplines, such as journalism for instance, where, according to Steven Smethers (1998), the integration of interactive media technology poses legal and ethical issues, which include the application of copyright law and the inaccuracy of online information.
Despite these issues, the exposure to interactive media technology is necessary for it will help journalism students and professionals keep abreast with the changes in society and at work. Thus, educators and journalists need to properly address these issues in the classroom setting and in the field (Smethers, 1998).
One of the main problems parents and educators have is with the easiness in which children can access the Internet. This is a concern shared by the Congress as well. Francoise Gilbert (2008) wrote that in the past few months,
Congress has passed several bills aimed at increasing the protection for minors in response to the risks to which minors are exposed when using the Internet. The KIDS Act and the PROTECT Our Children Act increase federal oversight of the online activities of registered sexual predators and other online sexual activities that include minors (Gilbert, 2008).
There are several opinions and articles written on the subject of legal issues in technology, David M. Quinn (2003) wrote that new technologies have the potential to revolutionize the educational system. Advancements in educational technology are taking place so quickly that constitutional and case law are continually developing. The consequences for school leaders are important and include technology-related issues involving freedom of speech, harassment, privacy, special education, plagiarism, and copyright concerns.
School leaders need to be mindful of these emerging legal conditions and understand the importance of professional development training for educators on technology and the law. With this in mind, the school law researcher and professor’s role should be to communicate frequently with educators about new statutes and how to apply legal concepts and frameworks to these developing situations (Quinn, 2003).
The legal aspects of technology are very sophisticated and deeply rooted on our daily activities. To better understand this issue is necessary to understand the purposes and causes of these activities, and how technology works to help these activities take place. For most part technology is fundamental, but in some cases is just an unnecessary luxury that can be set aside.
The common problems found today on the Internet, especially new treats found on terrorism and financial theft, will remain until legislation and corporation management do not solve them and according to Robert E. Kahn and Vinton G. Cerf (1999) is “not because of fundamental limits in the law, but rather by technological and perhaps management limitations in knowing how best to deal with these issues” (pp. 9-10).
Business, the academic community and government all need as much assurance as possible that they can conduct their activities on the Internet with high confidence that security and reliability will be present. The participation of many organizations around the world, including especially governments and the relevant service providers will be essential here. The success of the Internet in society as a whole will depend less on technology than on the larger economic and social concerns that are at the heart of every major advance. The Internet is no exception, except that its potential and reach are perhaps as broad as any that have come before (Kahn, R. & Cerf, V., 1999, p. 10).
In the opinion of this author the importance of the Internet as a commercial vehicle exercising a great influence on the economical globalization will prevent strict government rules and controls to exist. The Internet has grown too much to be constrained by any organization, even powerful government agencies. People’s needs are the guidelines for the Internet, and people is willing to accept the dangers to morality and ethics, such as pornography, gambling, racism, among others, because users understand that all these issues can be controlled by them, the users.
American Civil Liberties Union (n.d.). Privacy & Technology : Internet Free Speech. Retrieved from http://www.aclu.org/privacy/speech/index.html
Brooks-Young, S. (2009, October 2). Social, ethical, legal, and human issues: teachers understand the social, ethical, legal, and human issues surrounding the use of technology in PK-12 schools and apply those principles in practice. Retrieved on October 2, 2009, from http://find.galegroup.com.prx-01.lirn.net/ips/start.do?prodId=IPS
Francoise, G. (2008). Age verification as a shield for minors on the Internet: A quixotic search?Shidler J. L. Com. & Tech. 6. Retrieved on October 2, 2009, from http://www.lctjournal.washington.edu/Vol5/a06Gilbert.html>
Harris, L. (2008, November 4). Protecting the Internet as a global medium for freedom. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leslie-harris/protecting-the-internet-a_b_141018.html
Howell, J. (2009, September 9). Education still first step in online safety awareness. Safe Internet Alliance. Retrieved from http://www.safeinternet.org/blog/education-still-first-step-online-safety-awareness
Hughes, D. (n.d.). Welcome to Enough Is Enough! Retrieved from http://www.enough.org/#
Kahn, R. & Cerf, V. (1999, December). What is the Internet (and what makes it work). Corporation for National Research Initiatives. Retrieved from http://www.cnri.reston.va.us/what_is_internet.html
The Oyez Project (n.d.). Reno v. ACLU. Retrieved from http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1996/1996_96_511
Quinn, D. (2003). Legal issues in educational technology: Implications for school leaders. Educational Administration Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 2, 187-207. Retrieved on October 2, 2009, from http://eaq.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/39/2/187
Smethers, S. (1998). Cyberspace in the curricula: new legal and ethical issues. Journalism and Mass Communication Educator 52.n4. Retrieved on October 2, 2009, from http://find.galegroup.com.prx-01.lirn.net/ips/start.do?prodId=IPS
Technological Horizons in Education. (2001, February). Seminar helps with legal issues in educational technology. Retrieved on October 2, 2009, from http://find.galegroup.com.prx-01.lirn.net/ips/start.do?prodId=IPS
Van Camp, J. (2005, July 4). Freedom of expression at the National Endowment for the Arts. California State University. Retrieved from http://www.csulb.edu/~jvancamp/freedom1.html
The FPA-BM has as Chairman of the Board Dr. John Peterson, Ph.D. A leading education specialist for over 15 years, Dr. John Peterson is a published author and the creator and implementer of several undergraduate and graduate programs. Emphasizing practical access to learning methodologies, Dr. Peterson has developed curricula focused on online and face-to-face training, optimizing new technologies for the benefit of his students’ achievements in real-world careers. In addition, Dr. Peterson is an experienced consultant to the requirements of the Florida Department of Education regarding the licensing and compliance of new institutions.