It’s time to sort out the internet. Just to make it clear, I’m no antediluvian Luddite. I love the internet. It makes life easier. When Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World-Wide-Web he put himself in the same league as other great inventors such as Thomas Edison (light bulbs) and Alfred Noble (dynamite). However, like dynamite, in the wrong hands the internet wreaks havoc on people’s lives. Governments haven’t caught up and still are spending much of their time wringing when they should be taking firm action to protect the vulnerable.
Fraud is an obvious area for action. I was saddened by fellow First Person columnist George Hayter’s recent tale of how be lost several thousand pounds after his emails were hacked. For years the banks have tended to cover up such frauds, quietly reimbursing victims in the hope of maintaining confidence in electronic banking. But this approach, taking the line of least resistance, defies natural justice. Fraudsters go unpunished and they know they can get away with it. True, the global nature of the internet means cyber criminals are often in jurisdictions thousands of miles from the countries of their victims. But cyber criminals can be tracked down. Foreign enforcement agencies should be given the assistance of our crime specialists. Some have even suggested the SAS should be offered to put, quite literally, the fear of death up the perpetrators. Such raids could be filmed and, with supreme irony, posted online for other would be keyboard criminals to see first-hand what fates awaits them should they dabble in world-wide honesty. I must say the whole idea has great appeal.
What gets more attention these days is online trolling. It seems female members of parliament have been singled out for all sorts of abuse. Unpleasant threats including rape and murder come from the vitriol dipped keyboards of those too cowardly to make use of conventional methods of communication. Why do they do it? Well, anonymity must hold the key to this. Oh, how we chuckle at all those stupid, made up names from people who think they can say anything under the over of a pseudonym. How to counter it? Mandate by law that all internet service providers simply don’t allow people to use made up names. After all, to prevent money laundering, we all must provide utility bills and other forms of household identity to conduct any significant financial operations. Why not do the same for email addresses and online identities? When you put your real name to something online there’s less chance you will let your spleen run completely out of control. And if you cannot curb your expression with in the realms of decency then it makes it much easier if people know who you really are and can take appropriate action. The non-compliant simply will have their emails blocked.
I can hear the squeals of outrage from the cyber heads citing freedom of expression. Often the media back this view, particularly the newspapers, many of whom have already proved their lack of probity by hacking into the phones of celebrities. It has been said that freedom of speech doesn’t include the right to falsely shout “Fire!” in a crowded theatre and there are public order penalties for those who do. It should be the same with the internet. You should be free to express yourself but within the same constraints applied face to face communications.
Those who spend more time than they perhaps should at the keyboard will greatly fear having their access to the internet removed. Such a policy has already been proven with cars. There are said to be a million untaxed and uninsured vehicles on Britain’s roads. Fines for culprits go unpaid. Hampshire police make more impact by crushing perpetrators’ cars. Apparently they don’t like that. And neither would misanthropic internet idiots if they were cut off from their cyber world.