Much though I love freedom of speech, the more raucous and unrestrained the better, I also favor the creation of a new Internet. Even if it is a so-called "gated community" where folks must assume an identity to participate. The Internet now resembles a giant libidinal bubble, where anyone can howl, growl and shriek, all with plausible deniability. And identities can be stolen with the ease of snatching an unlocked bicycle.
Today's New York Times carries a story entitled "A New Internet?" It reports that while use of the Internet is now common, and a lifeline for businesses, government and folks everywhere, the system is far from secure. It can come crashing down at the hands of pranksters who can hide their tracks with apparent ease.
"Unless we're willing to rethink today's Internet," one engineer told the Times, "we're just waiting for a series of public catastrophes." Another expert drove the point home in a more memorable way: "If you're looking for a digital Pearl Harbor, we now have Japanese ships streaming toward us on the horizon."
Security issues are beyond my ken. On one level, it is not at all clear to me how a gated Internet would eliminate viral mischief. It would seem an easy thing to create a false identity for the purposes of mayhem. I certainly would not support Government regulation of access to a more secure Internet. Will there be a new Department of Motor Vehicles, or some such, called, perhaps, Department of Electronic Communications, together with photographic identification cards? Perhaps a digital read of a thumb print or retinal image to log on. That is chilling.
Apparently, a new more secure Internet is well beyond the planning stage. A new system has been developed and will be operable on eight college networks this summer. It would not suprise me to learn that there are limited access Internet universes accessible only to the military and Government. After all, the Internet came to life in such corridors of power.
But I still am intrigued of a gated Internet world. So much of the communication on line today comes in the form of outbursts by folks writing under a pseudonym. For the life of me, I cannot understand why someone thinks their opinions become more trustworthy, or even interesting, when expressed anonymously. No tyrant threatens to squash dissent by crushing the writer. If anything, the Internet is so wide open that every mental ejaculation, no matter how bizzare, is now a post somewhere. Discourse has become masturbation.
I'll sign on to a gated Internet. The extra security would be worth the minimal intrusion that comes of posting under a real name with a real address. But I will worry that once regulation begins, it will blossom into rules about what can and cannot be posted. The print media will love a gated Internet, the better to edit us. And Government will love it, too. And let's not forget the captains of commerce: users fees are income, after all. I suppose that is why the wild, wild West of Internet communication won't end any time soon.