Security: Misuse of the internet

Security: Misuse of the internet

324 Prolbssional Notes Patton, M. Q. (1990), Qualigatzve evaluatzon and research methods (2nd ed.), I,ondon (Sage). Stevenson, J. (1991 ), 'The lon...

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Prolbssional Notes

Patton, M. Q. (1990), Qualigatzve evaluatzon

and research methods (2nd ed.), I,ondon (Sage). Stevenson, J. (1991 ), 'The long term impact of interactive exhibits', International Journal qfScience Education, 13, 521 532. Tulley, A. & Lucas, A. M. (1991), 'Interacting

Security: Misuse of the [nternet Held at the University of Leicester, 11-15 September 1995, t~te 101st Annual Conference of the Museums Association took as one of its main themes 'The Internet' and for one afternoon organised the Internet Caff in which delc gates were encouraged to explore for themselves 'the use that museums are making of the [nternet and World Widc Web (technological glitches permitting)'. This is not the context in which to address the wide range of issues posed by the relationship between museums an[t the information super-highways, not least the place of virtual reality and other surrogates within the museum environ ment, but the provision by museums of uncontrolled access from their premises into the [nternet involves important security concerns as well as ethical issues. Unfortunately, the Internet is today far from providing just a neutral open forunt for the exchange of informa tion which can then be accepted with total confidence on its face value only. Nicholas Negroponte, the high priest of cyberspacc, has rejoiced in the de personalisation of the individual user and the replacement of the traditional g e o graphical community bv his 'hyper democracy' in virtual reality. However, the down/side of this development is the replacement of the responsible individual, relating to the concerns of a commu nity rooted in a specific geographical location, by a cyberspace persona stripped of any community obligations or moral restrictions. Indeed, individual

with a science museum exhibit: Vicarious and direct experience and subsequent understanding', International Journal of Science Education, 13, 533-542. DAvn) J. JOHNSTON AND LEONIE J. RENNIE

responsibility for the impact of any material launched into cyberspace by that persona is entirely shed, almost as an article of faith, as the user of the Internet becomes immersed in the freedom of its intellectual and moral anarchy. This does not imply that much of the information available on the Internet is not of excellent quality and cannot be utilised fully by those in a position to exercise independent critical judgement and thereby assure themselves as to its reliability, but the Internet is not universally neutral and a growing proportion of the information being entered is motivated by a broad spectrum of agendas, not all of them disinterested. For strategic reasons during the Cold War, the Internet was deliberately conceived as an anarchical system of communication, primarily between academics, which would successfully resist the attempts of any totalitarian state to control the information being exchanged bv means of it. But like the Golem in Prague, the explosion in the power of the technology employed has created a monster in its own right, and, by virtue of its original design, neither the information being entered, nor the searches being made, can be effectively controlled by anyone other than the individual users. For the museum community this is an environment which has to be treated with the utmost circumspection because although the information entered by a highly respected institution may be sound in itself, there is no means of checking that all of it was indeed entered by a bona fide member of its staff, with its official blessing, and, furthermore, the context or 'Site of Interest' in which it is

Prq/~'ssmnal Notes to be found is open to corruption by others pursuing very different agendas. At a relatively harmless level it is often very difficult to distinguish between information contributed for information's sake and the more subtle forms of advertising, opinion forming and propaganda. These merge imperceptibly into various forms of 'sowing of doubts' and cleverly packed disinformation, before the constant risks of sabotage are addressed. The power of the Internet for good is undoubted, but its power for evil is immense and largely unrecognised bv either its devotees or the outside w o r k [ Before museums commit themselves to involvement in the Internet they and their governing bodies must be fullv aware of its dark side. At the 1995 Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Professor Harold Thimbleby, o~ Middlesex University, announced that he had examined a sample of l m searches made of the Internet by means of a standard 'search engine' and had thereby obtained a list of the most used searci~ words. In respect of this sample, hc reported that the eight most frequently used search words related to pornography and that half of all searches were aimed at locating pornography. He went on to state: There is a very large amount of paedophilia and bestialitv on the lnternet ... The pictures are of very high quality but in some respects the textual descriptions of what the pictures show are even worse. I now know things l wish I didn't know. The numbers o) sites and searches aren't so important as the ease with which they can bc accessed. My nine-year-old son could do it, if he wanted to. The material includes high-quality graphics, instructions, stories, movies, shop catalogues, for both conventional sexual interests as well as all variations. (The Times, 13

September 1995) He went on to say that access was very difficult although the program called is available on the market

preventing and that SurfWatch to prevent


access to forbidden sites, the system is all too easy to subvert and overriding these controls requires a level of skill that would not be beyond teenage hackers (op. cit.). Given the apparent level of misuse of the Internet today by both those entering information and those obtaining it, and the institutionalised anarchy of the system which defies reform, the question h'as to be asked as to the desirability of allowing uncontrolled access to the internet by members of the public via museum terminals? In the United States of America the Communications Decency Act is before Congress, and it envisages fining anyone convicted of sending obscene material through computer networks up to $100,000, but with over 7rn households there with on-line accounts by mid-1995, is this a realistic approach? The pattern of use of the Internet is in this context revealing because the number of searches being made from United States terminals is reported to fall away dramatically outside working hours. The conclusion is uuavoidable: there is a high degree of probability that museum-based access terminals on the Internet will be misused, rather than might be. Various sanctions can be imposed on employees misusing the Internet in order to gain access to material unconnected to their official duties, but no such limitations can be imposed on outside users with any degree of reliabilit> Few museums wish to be knowing purveyors of inaccurate information, let alone pornography and material intended to induce racial hatred, for example, but permitting access to the dark side of the Internet is precisely that and Professor Thimbleby's thesis that: the Internet is in reality a heavily used red-light district, piping pornography into millions of homes around the world (op. clt.) cannot but demand second thoughts as to the future relationship between museums and the Internet. P~!TF,R CANNoN-BRooKEs