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The Internet. A miracle of the 21st Century, providing high quality information and education to all, breaking down social barriers and creating a new info-democracy the likes of which our fathers could only dream about. Few would disagree that the Internet is a wonder of the modern world, and one of America's greatest contributions to science.
However, as with all emergent technologies sooner or later, abuse by the uneducated masses causes the need for regulation to arise. As more people adopt a technology, the more likely that technology will be used by irresponsible individuals who try to spoil things for the rest of us.
This is why the time has come to introduce licensing for Internet users.
What do the activities listed above have in common ?
The answer is that all are potentially dangerous activities for which one must obtain a license if one wishes to remain on the right side of the law.
It is surprising to me that one potentially dangerous activity is conspicuously missing from the above list. We all accept without question the need for regulation where dangerous technologies are concerned (as the list clearly demonstrates). So why should the Internet be exempt ? What is so special about 0s and 1s travelling along a wire that makes us give it 'special treatment' ? Why should this important resource not enjoy the protection from abuse that regulation would undoubtably provide ?
In the old days of the Internet, its usage was confined to academia, and the military. Back in those days, one could be fairly sure that Internet users were responsible citizens, who would not abuse their 'net access, after all our educators and defenders are people we knew we could trust.
These days, with the explosive growth in Internet usage, it is impossible to control who goes online. Indeed, many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) market themselves on how 'easy to use' their service is. You are just as likely to find senior citizens, children, teenagers and housewives online these days, as you are to find a world class physicist or a military intelligence officer.
As you would expect, with such a large number of uneducated people given unrestricted access to such a powerful tool, the results have not always been pleasant, and abuse has run rampant. You can find bomb making instructions, Islamic fundamentalist propaganda, pornography, hate sites, left wing and right wing extremism, pornography, fascism in all its different and elaborate disguises, Radical androphobic feminism, autism, pornography, questionable politics, pornography, blasphemy against Jesus, and yet more pornography.
This is the mere tip of the iceberg, since the Internet is estimated to have as much as 100 Gigabytes of this kind of offensive material, and it is growing larger by the week, as more and more uneducated people rush to 'get online' so that they may 'surf the web' with their equally poorly-educated beer-swilling redneck buddies.
As with all technologies, the Internet has matured to the point where regulation is not just desirable, it has become inevitable. You don't need to be Kreskin to predict that unless the Internet is regulated, and regulated quite heavily, it will soon collapse under the sheer weight of pointless traffic Britney Spears fan sites, uninteresting personal home pages and the extra load placed on the 'net infrastructure by illegal protocols such as Aimster Napster, Bearshare Gnutella and the like.
As with automobiles, firearms, and TV ownership, the only way to ensure the Internet is used responsibly is to introduce a system of licencing and mandatory education for its users. Such a system would ensure that only those with a complete understanding of the Internet and a responsible approach to online activities would be entrusted with access to the 'net. After all, Internet access should be a privilege, not a right.
There may be some opposition to begin with, but I predict that as with other forms of licensing, most people will be happy to give up a small amount of their freedom in order to take advantage of the many benefits promised by more control of the 'net.
I would envisage centers being set up all over the country, where 'newbies' could go and practice surfing in a safe environment, and receive instruction on a curriculum to include basic 'nettiquette' and 'safe surfing' in a non-threatening environment.
After practicing and receiving instruction, a net user would then take their 'Internet test' which would qualify them to surf the net without supervision. Subsequent higher level tests would enable the would-be surfer to improve his or her skills to the point where access to more advanced net-surfing technology would be permitted.
It may be that these centers will need a safe practice Internet of their own, disconnected from the dangers of the real Internet (although this may not be required if tools such as net nanny, surfsafe, cyber guard zone alarm and web-washer offer sufficient protection). Obviously the details of this need to be thrashed out by our elected representatives and legislators.
Since different people have different capacities for learning I propose that we have different categories of Internet license based on several factors:
Of course there will need to be age restrictions as well. Nobody under the age of 14 or over the age of 75 will qualify for an Internet license. The very young need to develop their personalities, and exposure to the solitary net-surfing experience could severely stunt their mental and social development leading to autism or extremely violent behavior (or at the very least, social ineptitude, whilst the very old would be at risk of heart seizures and other complications caused by some of the more extreme content that is to be found on the Internet.
Enforcement of the Internet license may also prove to be problematic. However it needn't be so. A minor reworking of the TCP/IP protocol stack to include a license verification phase as part of the three way handshake, combined with strong encryption and digital signatures, and biometric scanning devices attached to every PC should make it trivial to ensure that the net is free from unlicensed surfers. Combine this with the threat of having your Internet license revoked for misbehaviour and you have a very powerful mechanism to control misuse of the 'net.
In the same way that posession of motor vehicle drivers license does not protect the driver from the occasional fender-bender, likewise the Internet license will not prevent the occasional abuse of the Internet from taking place. In order to provide a means of redress for those affected by a licensed surfer's poor nettiquette, there will need to be a mandatory insurance law. All licensed Internet users will need to take out insurance to cover their liabilities for any abuses they perpetrate online (whether accidental or intentional).
The regulation of the Internet promises to improve the Internet for everyone. By eliminating the irresponsible individuals who spoil the web for the rest of us, we will be able to enjoy an enhanced web surfing experience free from h4x0rs, skR1p7 K1dd135, spammers, misinformation, porn, extreme political lunatics, lame-assed websites and just about every other problem that plagues the Internet today. Your Internet license could become just as important to a future employer as a driver's license or a high school diploma is today! Of course, the Privacy Nazis and Freedom Fascists will trot out that familiar tired old chestnut:- that people who sacrifice their freedoms do not deserve them in the first place, but most of those kind of people are not parents and are unconcerned about protecting our children from the very real dangers of the unregulated Internet.
I hope I have given you surfers some food for thought. If you think I am being a control freak, just try to imagine the state our highways would be in today if anyone regardless of age or ability were entitled to drive an automobile, anyone regardless of age or ability were entitled to carry a gun and anyone regardless of age or ability were entitled to sell liquor to whomesoever they chose.
It's a sobering thought I think you will agree.