cyberspace is difficult to conceptualize and implement. As a result, said Mr. Maxwell, we still confront “a bucket of legal framework issues, a bucket of infrastructure issues, and a third bucket that might be called the trust bucket.” In other words, only with the assurance of a legal framework and a robust infrastructure will people be willing to use the Web for business transactions at increasing rates.

The Need to Resolve Privacy Issues

Obviously one of those issues is privacy, and privacy is more than just the protection of personal information. It tends to include related issues such as credit card security and authentication: Is the person with whom I am transacting business really who I think the person is? Is this communication secure? Will the transaction be resolved? Unless we can find satisfactory mechanisms for protecting privacy and enhancing trust, said Mr. Maxwell, e-business will not grow as fast as we wish.

He referred to the earlier discussion of pervasive computing and called attention to the privacy implications of people wearing medical sensors in their shirts. The privacy implications of distributed computing are very different from those of centralized communications. The government will not be organizing or controlling this new world and individuals will face the issue of reliability before they decide to commit critical functions to this environment. Such questions will affect the development of both the Internet technology and electronic markets.

The flip side of the privacy issue is the question of anonymity and encryption of communications to provide anonymity. The policy implications of anonymity are very large. Humans have never had the kind of opportunity for anonymous speech that is now available on the Internet. How do we respond, Mr. Maxwell asked, when people can do things anonymously that are unattractive to society? What should the policy framework be for thinking about questions of anonymity?

Threats to Internet Openness

A related question concerns the enforcement of national laws on an international Internet. The first law applied in the United States to content on the Web was against obscenity and pornography. The first content law in China was applied against sedition. France wanted laws to preserve the French language. Germany worried about Nazi paraphernalia. Every country has an impulse to protect its citizenry from certain content. These impulses could potentially balkanize the content of the Web and reduce dramatically the notion of openness—the ability of any individual to reach any other individual or source of information.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement