Is the Net beyond the law?
Copyright © 1996 to Bruce Simpson
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The borderless and global scope of the Internet is posing a problem for legislators.

Although any country can pass a law to control activities within their own borders, the very nature of the Net means that any individual or organisation wishing to continue activites which may have been rendered illegal, need only buy server space in another country where such laws do not apply.

This problem has already plagued legislators who seek to control pornography on the Net and will further hinder efforts to control issues such as copyright.

Any time a Western country passes a law that adversely affects infringers, they'll simply move their operations to some little bannana republic or non-aligned country.

A recent analogous situation occured here in NZ when Telecom decided to stop the provision of 0900 services to "adult" phone services. Within hours almost, the providers of these services simply moved their operations off-shore. The effect on the consumer of these serivices was negligable - and so it would be on the net.

Faced with this inability to control the Net, we may see more countries following Singapore's lead and placing very strong restrictions on what Net sites may be visited by their citizens.

Does this pose a real threat to the Net as we know it? Which is the lesser of the two evils: to allow illegal activites such as copyright infringements and the distribution of paedophilia and other undeniably offensive material (as opposed to erotica) - or to remove the one factor which has made the Net what it is today - total "freedom of association"?

This is a question we may all have to face one day soon, and unfortunately the chances are that the decision will be made by those least qualified to do so.

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