News Flash: Bad People Use the Internet Too!

It’s sometimes easy to forget that the Internet isn’t always used just by do-gooders to do good. Alas, security analyst Bruce Schneier reminds us bad people can use the Internet too. However, he encourages us to avoid the urge to shut down new technologies, like Google Earth, just because they might some day, possibly, be used by terrorists.

If India bans Google Earth, a future terrorist won’t be able to use it to plan; nor will anybody else. Open Wi-Fi networks are useful for many reasons, the large majority of them positive, and closing them down affects all those reasons. Terrorist attacks are very rare, and it is almost always a bad trade-off to deny society the benefits of a communications technology just because the bad guys might use it too.

Our case study on post-election violence in Kenya is a perfect example of how during one episode of violence, individuals can simultaneously use the Internet for positive change (Ushahidi), while others employ it for more nefarious ends (text messages coordinating violence). In the Kenya example, we saw the same impulse by government to shut down the cell phone network that Schneier observes today, but note that instead of shutting off Kenyans’ primary form of communication, they chose to allow the cell carrier to remain in service while also sending messages encouraging peace and calm to all subscribers.

As Schneier concludes:

Criminals have used telephones and mobile phones since they were invented. Drug smugglers use airplanes and boats, radios and satellite phones. Bank robbers have long used cars and motorcycles as getaway vehicles, and horses before then. I haven’t seen it talked about yet, but the Mumbai terrorists used boats as well. They also wore boots. They ate lunch at restaurants, drank bottled water, and breathed the air. Society survives all of this because the good uses of infrastructure far outweigh the bad uses, even though the good uses are – by and large – small and pedestrian and the bad uses are rare and spectacular. And while terrorism turns society’s very infrastructure against itself, we only harm ourselves by dismantling that infrastructure in response – just as we would if we banned cars because bank robbers used them too.

Now, if only I could take a bottle of shampoo on my next flight….

Hat Tip: Sullivan

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