Internet ethics in english
A alquimia é das ciências ocultas que, actualmente,
mais interesse tem despertado não só pelos inúmeros livros que ao longo dos
tempos foram escritos sobre a Arte Hermética, mas também, pela curiosidade de
saber algo sobre a veracidade da misteriosa Pedra Filosofal, também conhecida
por Medicina Universal.
Tem-se escrito muito sobre o simbolismo alquímico
encontrado nas catedrais, palácios e até casas senhoriais. É, deveras um
trabalho fascinante procurar desvendar o segredo contido nessas figuras
esculpidas na pedra pelos artistas nossos antepassados como testemunho do seu
envolvimento na ciência de Hermes.
No simbolismo alquímico, tanto quanto sabemos, não
existiam nem existem regras fixas. Tudo era, e ainda é, deixado à imaginação dos
seus autores e à sua criatividade. Por isso, como é óbvio, isto dá azo a
especulações ditas "filosóficas" que, muitas vezes nada têm a ver com a
Durante muito tempo a alquimia foi sinónimo de
charlatanismo ou de ignara credibilidade. Muito do descrédito da alquimia era
devido à falta de publicações sérias, pois muitas delas são imitações
grosseiras, feitas por sopradores (falsos alquimistas) dos verdadeiros e antigos
textos, nas quais se une o absurdo com a ignorância. Actualmente, devido ao
grande número de traduções das obras clássicas mais importantes dos grandes
Mestres, a opinião de muitas pessoas mudou completamente.
A alquimia é a arte de trabalhar e aperfeiçoar os
corpos com a ajuda da natureza. No sentido restrito do termo, a alquimia sendo
uma técnica é, por isso, uma arte prática. Como tal, ela assenta sobre um
conjunto de teorias relativas à constituição da matéria, à formação de
substâncias inanimadas e vivas, etc.
A alquimia operativa, aplicação directa da alquimia
teórica, é a procura da pedra filosofal. Ela reveste-se de dois aspectos
principais: a medicina universal e a transmutação dos metais, sendo uma, a prova
real da outra.
Eles não procuram o impossível, como vulgarmente se
diz, mas sim a confirmação do que está descrito nos antigos tratados, que os
Mestres nos legaram com vista à obtenção da medicina universal ou pedra
O alquimista não é um fazedor de ouro como muita
gente pensa. A transmutação só terá lugar, como já dissemos, como prova provada
da veracidade da medicina universal ou pedra filosofal.
Hoje a alquimia coabita pacificamente com a ciência e
não é raro ver indivíduos com formação superior nos ramos da ciência, da
medicina e das letras, praticarem a Arte Real.
OXYMORON OR ORTHODOXY?
This paper examines three related issues:
- What is the Internet and how does its past development and current
operations relate to questions of ethics?
- Is there a place for ethics on the Internet and, if so, how would this
- What does the LICRA vs Yahoo! legal case tell us that is relevant to the
debate about Internet ethics?
WHAT IS THE INTERNET?
It is essential to start with some understanding of the history and the
nature of the Internet.
Where did it come from?
- The Internet started life in 1969 as the US Department of Defense’s
Advanced Research Projects Agency network (known as ARPAnet). It was designed
to provide a distributed, flexible and self-healing command network which
would enable the US military to continue operating even if Soviet military
missiles took out certain geographical locations on the network.
- Following its creation as a network for the American military, the
Internet – as it became called – evolved into a network for the American
academic community, starting with universities and then spreading outwards.
- Newsgroups, where most child pornography on the Net is located, and chat
rooms, where children are most vulnerable to approaches by paedophiles,
followed the evolution of the ARAPnet into the Internet, but preceded and are
independent of the World Wide Web.
- In 1989, what is now arguably the most popular feature of the Internet,
the World Wide Web, was developed by the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee
during his time at CERN in Switzerland.
- If there was one year in which the Web could be said to have taken off, it
was in 1993, when the number of users doubled and the Internet really entered
media consciousness and public debate. Today there are around 400 million
Internet users world-wide.
[For a much more detailed history of the Internet, see the Hobbes Internet
What are the implications of this evolution for the ethics debate?
- The distributed nature of the Internet – based on packet switching and the
routing and rerouting of packets along multitudinous networks and nodes –
makes any central control of the medium impossible, even if it was thought
- The Internet was developed originally for military and then academic
purposes. As originally conceived and used, it was a closed network with
specific uses and functions and therefore, initially at least, never provoked
a debate about ethical issues in the way that cinema or radio or television –
all immediately available to those who could afford it - immediately did.
- The Internet was originally designed for, and used by, the few and the
intellectual. This gave it a particular set of values – such as tolerance of
dissent and antipathy to control – that still pervades much of the debate
about Internet content and regulation.
- The Internet was originally used exclusively by Americans and even today
around two-fifths of all users reside in the U.S.A. This means that the debate
around the Internet has been influenced massively by American culture and
values, notably the First Amendment of the US Constitution (which guarantees
freedom of expression) and more generally an hostility towards Government
intervention or control.
- The growth of the Internet has been exponential: more and more people are
using it for longer and longer to do more things. This has at least three
- The Internet is no longer the preserve of the few and the intellectual. In
many industrialised societies, a majority of citizens have access – whether at
home or at work – and the user profile is increasingly approximating that of
the citizenry as a whole.
- The Internet has ceased to be an American phenomenon. There are now almost
as many users in Europe as there are in the USA and therefore much of the
ethics debate now is a clash between American and European culture and values.
- As Internet growth continues and especially as we see more users in Asia
and South America, the ethics debate will not simply be an American vs
European one. Increasingly we have to accommodate a wide diversity of cultures
and value systems.
So much for the history of the Internet. What about the nature of the
Internet? What range of services does it provide?
The main forms of content are:
- E-mail which enables one to communicate almost instantly and at negligible
cost with any of the other 400 million Internet users world-wide
- Internet Relay Chat (IRC) which enables people to converse either in
groups or one on one in chat rooms – some 40,000 world-wide – focused on
different subjects or different groups
- Usenet newsgroups – of which there are about 40,000 – which enable people
to file articles or comments or pictures about a whole host of different
subjects, ranging from the very technical to the sexually bizarre
- The World Wide Web which now consists of over one billion sites ranging
from the ultra sophisticated like Amazon.com to the typical home page such as
The types of activities which are taking place on the Net can be analysed as
- Communications, previously through e-mail, but increasingly through
telephony using the Internet Protocol (IP) networks
- The provision of information whether through data bases to which access is
normally limited or through Web sites which are open to all Internet users
with a suitable browser
- E-commerce whether it is business to customer (B2C) or – currently four
times the size – business to business (B2B)
- E-Government whereby Government departments interact with citizens, from
the simple provision of information to the completion of forms, through to
What are the implications of this range of services for the ethics debate?
- The Internet is not one network but many – indeed it is a network of
networks. It does not provide one type of service offering but many – and this
range will increase. These services have many different characteristics and
the ethics debate has to take account of this – how we approach chat rooms
many not be how we approach newsgroups, especially where children are
- The Internet has many actors with different interests. Infrastructure
companies like Cisco or Oracle may have little or no involvement in content.
Microsoft may start by ‘simply’ providing a browser (Explorer) and then go
into the portal business (MSN). Not all Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
provide access to all newsgroups and most chat rooms are not hosted by ISPs.
If one is attempting to bring a sense of ethics to the Internet in any
particular instance, it is essential to know who has the control and the
- There is still a poor sense of understanding of the issues. On the one
hand, those who campaign for more ‘control’ of the Internet often have little
understanding of the technological complexities. Typically they do not know
how newsgroups and chat rooms are hosted and many politicians do not know the
difference between a newsgroup and a Web site. On the other hand, many
providers of Internet infrastructure and services have little understanding of,
let alone sympathy for, the concerns of users. Frequently complaints about
material or requests for meetings are dealt with in a cavalier fashion or even
- Increasingly the debate about the content of the Internet is not national
but global, not by specialists but by the general populace. There is a real
need for this debate to be stimulated and structured and for it to lead to
‘solutions’ which are focussed, practical and urgent.
IS THERE A PLACE FOR ETHICS?
In considering whether there is a place for ethics on the Internet, we need
to have understanding of what such a grand word as ‘ethics’ means in this
context. I suggest that it means four things:
- Acceptance that the Internet is not a value-free zone
This means that the World Wide Web is not the wild wild Web, but instead a
place where values in the broadest sense should take a part in shaping content
and services. This is a recognition that the Internet is not something apart
from civil society, but increasingly a fundamental component of it.
- Application of off-line laws to the on-line world
This means that we do not invent a new set of values for the Internet but,
for all the practical problems, endeavour to apply the law which we have
evolved for the physical space to the world of cyberspace. These laws might
cover issues like child pornography, race hate, libel, copyright and consumer
- Sensitivity to national and local cultures
This means recognising that, while originally most Internet users were
white, male Americans, now the Internet belongs to all. As a pervasively
global phenomenon, it cannot be subject to one set of values like a local
newspaper or national television station; somehow we have to accommodate a
multiplicity of value systems.
- Responsiveness to customer or user opinion
This means recognising that users of the Internet – and even non-users –
are entitled to have a view on how it works. At the technical level, this is
well understood – bodies like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) end the World Wide
Web Consortium (W3C) endeavour to understand and reflect user views. However,
at no level do we have similar mechanisms for capturing user opinions on
content and access to it.
Now that we have a better understanding of what ethics means in the context
of the Internet, we need to address the question: whose responsibility is ethics
on the net? The answer is that responsibility should be widely spread.
- Government is the democratic mechanism for deciding what activity is
unacceptable – and therefore should be criminalised – in a particular society.
As far as practical, these same laws should be applied to the Internet. Not
many new laws – hacking is one example – are necessary.
- Having made laws, they should be enforced – in cyberspace as much as in
the real world – and, in many jurisdictions, the police themselves have too
little technical expertise and resource.
- Internet service providers have to accept that they are not the same as
the telecommunications operator or the postal service which deliver private
one-to-one messages. Although, given the nature of the Internet, they cannot
possibly be expected to pre-check content, once they receive a notification or
a complaint about something they are carrying or hosting, they have to take a
- Equally, the operators of services on the Internet have to take account of
how that service might reasonably be expected to be used. For instance, if a
Web hosting company carries a site providing information on bomb making or
suicide assistance, they cannot claim to have no responsibility if that
information is used. Or, if a chat room is used by a paedophile to groom a
young girl before he manages to meet and abuse her, the operator of the chat
room cannot deny any responsibility. This is not a matter of legal liability
but of moral responsibility.
- Of course, Governments, law enforcement, ISPs and service operators can
only do so much - which is why we have to empower end users. Consumers should
be given the knowledge and the tools to apply their own ethical codes to use
of the Internet by themselves and their families. Parents and teachers have a
special responsibility in this regard.
- Finally, we need a compelling recognition that children must have special
protection. Use of the Internet is not like watching television: the device is
not shared in real time with other members of the family in a public space
like the living room and broadcasting conventions like the ‘watershed’ (no
adult content before 9pm) do not apply. We need new defence mechanisms.
In seeking to apply a sense of ethics to cyberspace, there are some major
problems but also some useful solutions.
Among the problems are:
- Jurisdictional competence
Laws are nation-based but cyberspace is global. How does one apply up to
170 separate and different legal systems to the Internet?
- Technological complexities
The Internet is a complex technical network and one cannot simply apply
‘old’ regulatory conventions from the worlds of publishing or broadcasting.
- The ‘geeks’ vs the ‘suits’
As many Internet-related companies have grown, there is now an internal
tension between the old-timers, with their vast technical knowledge, and the
new-comers who are more likely to be marketing people much more aware of
- Populist campaigns
The Internet is still so new and so mysterious for many that it is still
relatively easy for a populist campaign to be whipped up which exaggerates the
dangers of Internet content and/or minimises the technical complexities of
dealing with it. We must be sensitive to consumer concerns, but the agenda
cannot be determined by ill-informed politicians looking for votes or
newspapers seeking to boost circulation.
Among the solutions are:
- Modernisation of laws
Governments need to consider whether pre-Internet laws need up-dating to
take account of new crimes such as cyber stalking or grooming in chat rooms.
- More high tech crime fighters
Law enforcement agencies need more people with greater technical training
and resource to tackle increasingly sophisticated cyber criminals such as
paedophile rings. One example is the recent creation of the National High Tech
Crime Unit in the UK .
- ‘Note and take down’ mechanisms
We need organisations to which Internet users can report allegedly criminal
content in the confident knowledge that this hotline is equipped to judge the
legality and identify the hosting of material so that, if it is illegal and if
it is in their jurisdictional area, they can issue a notice to the relevant
ISP to remove it. A good example of such an operation is the Internet Watch
Foundation in the UK .
- Labelling and filtering
We can best empower end users by greater labelling or rating of Internet
content and greater use of more sophisticated filtering software. The Internet
Content Rating Association (ICRA) has made considerable progress in developing
and promoting a genuinely global, culturally independent labelling system. A
wide range of companies provide filtering software which operates on different
principles. In this way, households can make their own decisions based on
their own cultural or ethical values. [For a fuller discussion of rating and
- Walled gardens
For young children or as a transitional stage to full Internet access, one
could use a ‘walled garden’ which restricts access to those sites pre-selected
by a particular provider, typically with a child-friendly brand.
- Better supervision of children
All those with responsibility for children – especially parents, guardians,
teachers and carers– need to become better aware of some of the problems of
Internet use by children and the range of solutions which are available. They
cannot rely, though, on technical solutions – regular conversation with, and
observation of, the child is essential.
So, how will all this come about?
- We need to give Internet users more relevant information. This should
start at the point at which one purchases a PC or other Internet-enabled
device. There should then be further information in both appropriate physical
places – like school rooms – and relevant cyberspaces – like child-focussed
- We need a more informed debate through education and awareness campaigns.
We cannot leave the terrain to civil libertarian ‘purists’, who too often see
the Internet as a value-free or (as they would put it) censorship-free zone,
or to the scare merchants who would have us believe that the Internet has more
filth than facts.
- Ideally, there should be some sort of organisational focus for this debate
and the promotion of advice, education and awareness. In the UK, the Home
Office has recently established a Task Force chaired by Lord Bassam ; there is
the Internet Crime Forum which brings together law enforcement, children’s
organisations and others ; and there is the Internet Watch foundation which
started as a hotline to combat criminal content but is now developing a
wide-ranging education and awareness programme .
- In a sense, the passage of time and greater familiarity with the new
Internet medium may – almost of itself – ease some of the difficulties. In
some respects, we are experiencing the kind of reactions seen in the early
days of the telegraph or television and we will learn to adjust to the new
challenges and opportunities.
THE YAHOO! CASE STUDY
An excellent case study on Internet ethics – and one being developed by
INSEAD in Fontainebleau – is the French legal case against the American company
What are the basic facts of the case?
- The legal action was brought in April 2000 by the French organisations the
International League against Racism and Anti-semitism (ILCRA) and the French
Jewish students organisation (UEJF).
- The case was brought against Yahoo! Inc as well as Yahoo! in France
and charged that the American company was in breach of French law for allowing
French users to access the company’s American site where Nazi memorabilia was
being auctioned, since the sale of such items in France is illegal.
- The case was heard in May 2000 in a Paris court by Judge Jean-Jacques
- The judge convened a three-member technical panel to examine whether it
was possible to block French users from accessing parts of an American site.
- The judge found – in an order talking of “an ethical and moral imperative
– that the company was guilty, ordered it to block access by French users to
the relevant part of the American site, and threatened fines for
non-compliance of 100,000 francs ($13,300) a day.
- In January 2001, Yahoo! Inc announced that it would no longer permit the
sale of Nazi memorabilia on its American site, thereby removing access not
just to French Internet users but all users.
- Yahoo! is now appealing in an American court against the right of a
non-American court to impose penalties on an American company.
What issues are raised by the Yahoo! case?
- Should the Internet raise issues of ethics and morality? Should a company
like Yahoo! have any interest in, or concern about, what one of its users
sells to another of its users?
- Is there a fundamental clash between American and European values as
applied to Internet content? If there is, how should a conflict be reconciled
- Should the Internet be borderless or should there be geolocation
checkpoints? If there are to be such checkpoints, how would they work?
- Can the courts of one country apply penalties to a company based in
another country? If so, how will Internet e-commerce cope with multiple
At this stage, I prefer simply to pose these questions rather than attempt to
answer them. However, I would offer some personal views on some of the lessons
that could be drawn from the Yahoo! case.
- Countries have very different cultures.
The French understandably are acutely sensitive to issues concerning the
Holocaust – it happened on European soil and was visited upon Europeans by
Europeans – whereas, not withstanding the strong Jewish lobby in the United
States, Americans appear less offended by the sale of Nazi memorabilia.
Another cultural difference involves the trial itself: whereas it was
comprehensively reported in the French media, the British and America media
appeared to view it as a strangely Gallic affair that merited less attention.
- Courts are blunt instruments for Internet regulation.
Obviously, courts are legalistic, but they are also confrontational and
costly. We need cheaper, faster, more flexible means of resolving Internet
problems. Yahoo! would have saved itself a lot of trouble and opprobrium if it
has engaged in a meaningful dialogue with LICRA and LICRA should have given
the company more time to develop such a dialogue.
- Public opinion can exert considerable influence.
Yahoo! opposed a demand by the court that it block access by French users
to parts of its action site and yet, only months later, voluntarily decided
that no-one in the world should have access because the offending items are no
longer for sale. Undoubtedly, it was the views of Yahoo! users around the
globe that persuaded the company to make such a policy reversal or volte face.
- There are often different technical or commercial opinions.
Yahoo! told the French court that it was technically impossible to block
French users from parts of its American site, but a technical panel appointed
by the court argued that such geolocation blocking was possible. Yahoo! was
originally ‘happy’ to see anyone auction anything on its site free of charge,
but now it has a much more restrictive policy and a pricing requirement.
- Where there is a will, there is usually a way.
Commercial companies – especially new companies operating in very
fast-changing and competitive environments – do not like people to query their
methods of operation and are often very resistant to proposals that, at least
at first sight, would appear to complicate further their already complicated
lives. But the Yahoo! case has shown that, when companies engage with a
problem, they can find a solution.
Some final thoughts about the Internet and ethics:
- Solutions do not have to be perfect to be useful. In other words, the best
should not be the enemy of the good. All the time that we procrastinate,
millions more are coming onto the Net
- At the moment, the debate is basically between the USA and Western Europe.
However, as Internet use expands into every corner of the globe, we will have
to take a broader view of ethics and values.
- This is not a "Star Wars"-like battle between good and evil. It is a
difference in values which can and should be resolved by education and debate.