Lawless to Flawless

Josh Bourne ⬥ 24 August

Last week I wrote a post about the lawlessness that pervades the Internet, focusing on the scamming and other illegal activities that take place in the online marketplace. What I didn’t mention are the things that can be done to help put a stop to cybercrime, not just in online buying and selling, but in all online activities.  So I wanted to follow up by discussing four areas in which changes, if implemented, would decrease the level of crime online and make the Internet a safer environment for all users.

The first change that needs to be made is to ICANN, the body that coordinates the domain name system and is charged with the day-to-day governance of the Internet.  The way ICANN currently operates is inherently flawed – the everyday Internet users and businesses who are most affected by its policies have the smallest voice within ICANN. ICANN must incorporate the needs of these important groups of stakeholders into its decision making process and unwind the ties to commercial parties that have mired ICANN’s legitimacy in clear conflict of interest issues.  Doing so will undoubtedly lead ICANN to address and eventually fix many of the problems that Internet users face.

The second change needs to come in the form of new and updated laws to punish online offenders. In many instances, people fall victim to malicious activities on the Internet, but have no means of pursuing justice because there are not laws in place that cover the infractions.  Last year, a woman who eventually became know as the “MySpace Mom” harassed a 13-year-old girl through the social networking site, ultimately leading the girl to commit suicide.  Because there were no laws that prohibited such actions, the woman was eventually acquitted of all charges brought against her.  The severity of the case galvanized certain US states to create anti-cyberbullying laws. Missouri was among these states and became the first state to formally charge someone with felony cyberbullyingjust last week.  Just as we have laws in the “real” world, there must be laws in the online world to prohibit malicious and harmful actions.

Members of the private sector, especially businesses, are prone to infringements on their brands and trademarks in the form of cybersquatting (and its various permutations) and other activities.  To fix these problems, businesses must be aware of the options for recourse that are available and how to make the most of them.  They must know which responses are best at resolving which problems. Finally, they must exercise their private rights of action to protect their businesses and prevent future infringements.  With better legal remedies in place, private companies must be willing to “go all the way,” make examples of the bad actors, and be prepared to do it again and again and again. Too many of the phishers, counterfeiters, spammers and other criminals believe they are untouchable.

The final change that needs to occur is within governments.  Cybercrime must become a higher priority for governments because, as recent events have demonstrated, cyber attacks can be highly detrimental to a country’s online infrastructure.  Governments should target the high-profile criminals at the top of the cybercrime chain just as they would seek out the head of any crime ring. An example of this is the recent federal prosecution of a hacking and identity theft scam that stole more than 130 million credit and debit card numbers.

Each of these changes are integral to improving the state of the Internet overall.  The sooner the necessary adjustments are made in each of these areas, the sooner the Internet will become a more hospitable environment for all users. 

Tags: anti-cyberbullying laws, brand infringement, cybercrime, cybersquatting, ICANN, identity theft, Internet, Internet stakeholders, Internet users, Missouri, MySpace, national government, online marketplace, social networking site, trademark infringement

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