Should you exchange privacy for safety?

At a time when the technology industry is crashing feverishly, cybercrime is growing exponentially. Every rebel with a cause and his kid brother is finding new ways to abuse the Internet.

At a time when the technology industry is crashing feverishly, cybercrime is growing exponentially.

NEW DELHI (ZDNet India)--Every rebel with a cause and his kid brother is finding new ways to abuse the Internet. Look at the the sudden increase in the number of worms and trojans finding their way into your inbox.

Cyber crime is child's play
Internet worms have come a long way since the first one created by Robert T Morris wrecked havoc on the evening on November 2, 1988. At least in those days it took intelligence to perpetrate such crimes. Today, however, you can download a worm creator from a warez site, plug in your cause, go to a cybercafe, and fire away.

It's always a cybercafe
A hacker indulging in illegal activities from a dial-up connection at home can easily be traced and might end up in jail within 24 hours of committing the crime. The same goes for someone who is foolish enough to try anything stupid from an "always-on" leased line. In both cases, the ISP can track and trap the hacker very quickly.

In a cybercafe, however, hundreds of people use a single terminal every day. The best the ISP can do is identify the cybercafe from which a worm originated or a hacker tried to break into another site. They can suspect, but cannot prove. This is what happened in the "Love Bug" case last year (estimated loss: $2.6 billion), when suspect Onel de Guzman went free because the charges against him couldn't be proved.

Show me your ID
To tackle this problem, the Mumbai police is planning on making it mandatory for cybercafe users to carry a special ID card with them. According to news reports, it was VSNL that came up with this suggestion.

If the plan carries through, it can reduce the degree to which a cybercafe user can remain anonymous and thereby empower the police to be more effective in tackling cybercrime. When ZDNet India spoke to a cross-section of professionals about the issue, we got mixed reactions.

This week has been notable for power thinking on the issue of Internet regulation around the globe. If you think having to produce an ID card at a cybercafe is a violation of your right to surf privately, Europe has even more ambitious plans. The European Commission intends to join hands with the police to monitor all email and other Internet traffic and log it for up to seven years, says a report from ZDNet UK.

There is an interesting anecdote about an American governor, Angus King, who was asked about government's role in regulating popular culture on the Internet. He stood silent. Only a while later did the audience understand what he was trying to "say" and broke into applause.

While it would be nice to let the Internet be the free-for-all medium that it is right now, the rise in the number of ugly incidents show that some amount of regulation is required. For the police to be successful with their cybercrime fighting (or with any crime fighting for that matter), they need our co-operation. They will have that only if they can convince us that they will use their powers to fight crime and not to protect us from what they view as moral decadence.

In his commentary on the role of the police in tackling Internet-related crime, the late Dewang Mehta summed up every netizen's fear when he said: "The police are a powerful force today which can play an instrumental role in preventing cybercrime. At the same time, it can also end up wielding the rod and harassing innocent Netizens, preventing them from going about their normal cyber business."

What do you think? Will the police's involvement in fighting cybercrime hurt our Internet experience? Is this a job for the technologists (who were in a way responsible for insecure technology in the first place)? Can technology provide effective solutions or is this more of a social issue?

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