A Question of Internet Ethics

Conference Will Address Legal, Ethical, Moral and Governmental Policy Issues of a Rapidly Emerging Technology

by Alice K. Boatwright

"Whenever a new technology is developed, ethical questions arise," says Yale Braunstein, a professor in the School of Information Management and Systems who specializes in copyright and intellectual property issues. "It happened when the photocopier was invented. And it happened with the player piano too."

Today the Internet--that wide-open, mind-boggling electronic warehouse full of everything from your Aunt Martha's resume (with photo) to the paintings at the Louvre--is the focus of such an ethical controversy.

Who should own information on the Internet, if anyone? Who's watching while you surf? Can you--and should you--try to protect your ideas, content and designs in an electronic world?

Next month experts on high-tech crime, image manipulation, freedom of speech and access to information will gather on the Berkeley campus to discuss these issues at a one-day conference, "Ethics of the Internet."

The conference will be held Saturday, Nov. 18, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., in 145 Dwinelle Hall.

Admission is $35 for the public and free to Berkeley faculty, staff and students who register in advance with a campus ID card.

For further information, call Berkeley Extension, 642-4111.

The conference is a collaborative effort on the parts of the Division of Undergraduate and Interdisciplinary Studies, the School of Information Management and Systems and Berkeley Extension.

Major funding was provided by the Steven V. White Endowment for the Teaching of Ethics.

"Conferences like this are important," says Braunstein, "because the Internet requires a whole new set of rules. "There are legal, ethical, moral and government policy issues involved and a lot of uncertainty about how things work--how they should work."

Jane Fisher, continuing education specialist for Berkeley Extension, adds that it is important to have a forum on these issues that includes the perspectives of both the campus and the community.

"The goal," says Braunstein, "is to find a balance between access and regulation."

On the access side are questions like: Who has access to technology? Should it be free or should there be a usage rate?

Regulation issues range from who should have the right to limit children's access to the problem of encouraging innovation in an arena where it's impossible to monitor copyright violations.

The morning session will focus on the issue of access to the technology.

Presenters will include Cynthia Samuels, founding executive producer of Channel One, on how access to the Internet affects children; Karen Coyle, chair of the Berkeley chapter of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, on political and social implications of universal access; and Los Angeles attorney Steve Arbuss, an expert on privacy and authors' rights in cyberspace, on free expression, copyright and democracy.

The afternoon session will examine freedoms, rights and crimes. Howard Besser, one of the world's leading authorities on image databases, will talk about authenticity, ownership and commercialism of digital images.

Jim Warren, MicroTimes columnist and founder of Computers, Freedom and Privacy conferences, will discuss surveillance and censorship on the Internet.

Don Ingraham, assistant district attorney and head of Alameda County's High-Tech Crime Team, will talk about controlling criminal contamination of the Internet.

All sessions will include time for questions from the audience, and students from Braunstein's undergraduate "Ethics of the Internet" class will participate as responders.

The conference will present a variety of points of view, says Braunstein, from "those like Jim Warren who lean toward unregulated free discourse to Don Ingraham, who believes that in any form of human interaction you need guidelines."

Fortunately, Braunstein concludes, "There is always a gray area between individual freedom and social responsibility, and the changing nature of the Internet keeps opening up new opportunities to see where compromise should be made."

For more information about the "Ethics of the Internet" conference, access the World Wide Web at http://info.berkeley.edu/sims/conferences/.


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