Friday, November 17, 2000

George Mindling Column 11-17-2000


The Internet and Con Artist


Any technology that serves the "public good" can be perverted to serve an unscrupulous few. The new cyber-crooks aren't dumb. They see the uses of new technology in a different light than honest people. Apparently, some people feel if there isn't a specific law against what is being done, no matter how vile, it isn't illegal!

Laws against fraud and extortion are on the hooks, regardless of the means to perpetrate them. But what about the crimes that haven't been categorized? In Tom Standage's book, The Victorian Internet." Standage parallels some of the problems faced by today's Internet use with early problems introduced by the invention of the telegraph!

According to Standage, one woman went into a telegraph office in 1878 to wire someone $11.76. She changed the amount to $12 because she said she was afraid that the loose change might get lost traveling over the wire. The misunderstanding of technology continues today.

One of the earliest documented demonstrations of the law not covering the technology happened in 1886. It seems an Englishman named Myers attempted to bribe an operator at the Exchange Telegraph Company to delay the transmission of racing results so he could place bets on the winners. He was arrested. but it was found he could not be charged with damage, nor with delaying the mail, as telegraph was not considered mail. Myers died before it was decided what crime he had committed.  There was no law against his attempted misuse of technology. The other side of the coin is the question "Are all laws the same to all people?”

One on-line auction site is in a French court because someone offered Nazi memorabilia for sale on their Web page in the United States. It is illegal to sell that junk in France. The company must now find a way to prevent breaking French law if it wants to continue doing business on an international scale.

The same question arises about pornography. What is and what isn't legal? Can we stop any other countries for making what we consider obscene available to the rest of the world? How about your E-mail? Is anyone, other than the intended recipient, allowed to read, resend, or print it without your permission? What about confidential information you unknowingly "share" because you "comply' with an Internet link? Pharmatrak, Inc. was recently sued for violating the newly enacted Electronic Communications Privacy Act. They were compiling data on a California man, via the innocuous "cookies" placed on his personal computer hard drive, to develop a profile for their pharmaceutical clients.

For a quick look at' the Federal Trade Commission's list of the lop 10 "Dot Cons," go to: http://www.ftc.govlbcp/conline/edca ms/dotcon/lndcx.html

The scams are out there, so be careful. We may end up with CyberPolice after all.

George Mindling © 2000

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