Many people believe that the World Wide Web can offer a great deal of anonymity and security from censorship but, they are dead wrong. Governments, the intelligence machinery, legal structures and any other relevant bodies can access information, censor, examine and even trace materials on the web because they have been granted the subpoena powers. These powers allow the aforementioned bodies to comb through computer servers in search of the identity of the person that created a specific file in question. People may see this as the infringement of their rights to privacy, however, threats posed by cyber criminals necessitate this ‘invasion of privacy’. In June 2000, a software program called Publius was created and launched. This program has the capacity to encrypt files into secret codes which are then, in effect, scattered all over the World Wide Web. This encrypting of published files by the software made the use of the subpoena powers granted to government and relevant bodies almost irrelevant because anyone wanting to trace the origin of a particular file to be censored or, examine the contents of a specific file must have the help of the person that created the files, in order to decode the files’ encryption. Because of its ability to effectively ‘hide’ files on the internet, the software came as a relief to people who felt that their right to privacy was being infringed upon and they welcomed the software as they felt it could enhance their freedom of expression on the web. The software definitely promotes the anonymity of people using web resources but, one question that arises is why would anyone with so-called ‘good intentions’ want to remain anonymous? It is the criminals, terrorists, child pornographers and cyber stalkers who would like to remain anonymous and who, arguably, could benefit the most from this type of web encryption. The creators of the software aimed at helping people in repressive regimes where freedom of expression was being curtailed but, the software is also being marketed in countries that do not have repressive elements. Is the marketing of this software really ethical? One may argue that the software benefits people whose privacy is being threatened but, looking at the other side of the coin, there are also losers in this debate. To determine whether it is ethical to market this software, it is important to look at the utilitarian ethical theory.
What is utilitarianism? Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that holds that the moral worth of any action can only be determined by its usefulness or utility. This utility is judged by the ability of the action to provide happiness and pleasure to the majority. Simply put, the theories hold that the moral worth of an action is determinable by its outcome. Utilitarianism is also refereed to as the greatest happiness principle and it focuses on the ability of an action to provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people (Lyons, 1995). Thus, the guiding principle in utilitarianism is the maximization of the good whether it be measured by individuals, the society or the government. Utilitarianism provides a code that determines the worth of public actions and even personal actions. If an action is bound to create significant harm to a bigger percentage of the society, then utilitarianism holds that that action has no moral worth and therefore reductionist policies or intervention measures need to be put in place to mitigate or prevent that harm. If an action is bound to benefit a larger percentage of the society, then that action is said to be ethical and has moral worth from a utilitarian view point. An action may be moral and even in accordance with the law but if that action does not benefit the majority; it is unethical from a utilitarian point of view. On the other hand, an action may be immoral and even against the law but if it serves public good by benefiting the majority, then that action is ethical (Lyons, 1995).
Taking the utilitarian ethical theory to the case study of the software that was launched to complicate efforts of censorship and tracking of material online, it is important to look at the benefits that this software has before determining whether marketing of the software is truly ethical. Also, the reasons as to why the governments and the relevant bodies comb the World Wide Web will be analyzed before a conclusion is proposed.
The digital revolution that has taken shape around the world has brought unprecedented benefits to society and its individuals because communication has been made easy as access to information has been made simple and prompt. The world has actually become a global village now that the world wide web has removed the physical barriers that in the past served to keep people apart. On the other hand, the digital revolution has had a negative impact on society and its individuals because it has compromised security all over the globe. Criminals have taken advantage of the digital revolution and they have come up with what is referred to as “digital crimes”. Present on the world wide web are child pornographers, cyber stalkers, con artistes and even terrorists as it is easy for them to remain somewhat anonymous and hide behind various online personas and avatars. Numerous people have suffered because of the actions of these criminals. Apart from the aforementioned crimes, the World Wide Web has been used to send alarming messages and inflammatory information and promote online bullying and defamation.
All of the potential for criminal activity in this new world means that people must be protected from all the potential negative impacts of the World Wide Web. That is why the constitution grants governments and other relevant bodies the subpoena powers that enable them to examine information on the World Wide Web to ensure that these potential threats are identified and dealt with accordingly. This means that the government and these relevant bodies have the interest of the majority of the population when they go into the World Wide Web to locate and examine malicious files or, when they block channels on the world wide web that are deemed to be malicious. Many may say that these actions are an infringement of their right to privacy provided to them by the bill of rights, however, from a utilitarian view point, the privacy of a few individuals cannot override the security of an entire nation and the action of the government to infringe on the privacy of a few people so as to safeguard the majority appears to be an ethical action. However, this ethical action of the governments and the other relevant bodies can now be compromised by the software, Publius, as the software makes it difficult for one to locate the source of the files without the input of the person who sent or made that file. Some people may breathe a sigh of relief thinking that this software has effectively brought their anonymity and freedom back and can bask in the knowledge that the big brother may not catch up with them. However, it is important to step back and look at what potentially brings the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people. When the government is able to access the World Wide Web and locate malicious information and data, it is able to safeguard its citizens from criminals lurking in the World Wide Web. When the courts are able to comb the World Wide Web in search of evidence, justice prevails. When the intelligence networks are able to monitor criminal and terrorist activity on the World Wide Web, a great number of people benefit. All these efforts are undertaken on a minority for the benefit of the majority. Publius, one can argue, complicates all of these efforts and thus, benefits a few people; some of whom are criminals who desperately need the anonymity and the privacy to engender crimes on the internet. This means that Publius has the most benefits to people who are potentially harmful to the society meaning that it is against the welfare of the majority of the society. The software compromises the security of the majority which means that it does not have a moral worth, according to Utilarianism. Thus, the marketing of Publius is against the welfare of the majority of the people in a nation because it compromises the efforts of the government bodies to offer security and justice to the people. From a utilitarian perspective, the marketing of this software is both unethical and immoral because it does not benefit the majority of the society and in fact only truly benefits a small part of the society that is harmful to the main society.
The creators of Publius are morally responsible for any criminal acts aided by Publius
The creators of the software Publius, that has the capacity to compromise the security of the people by giving a safe haven to criminals, are morally responsible for the criminal acts perpetrated by the criminals. However, it is important to understand the implication of the above statement before attempting to explain it. There is a difference between legal responsibility and moral responsibility. In this case, should the software aid a criminal to escape or engender crime on the internet, the creator of the software may not be legally responsible for the crimes. The creator was not in any way involved in the crime and the law only punishes the perpetrators of the crime. This is because the maker of the software did not in anyway influence the crime. However, moral responsibility is different from legal responsibility because morality goes beyond the confines of the law. Something may be legal but immoral and another thing may moral but illegal. At the moment, the Publius is legal software because it has not been outlawed but it is being used to carry out both illegal and immoral activities. If the creators of the software know that the software poses an impediment of the welfare of the majority by making the public vulnerable to crime, the most moral and ethical thing would be to terminate the production and the sale of the software. This is because the software is an impediment for the provision of what is morally good to the people and also aids immoral people to perpetrate their immoral activities. In the absence of the software, the criminals would feel more vulnerable to apprehension and this could reduce the levels of immoral activities they carry out on the web. The presence of this software is, thus, engendering some digital immoral activities. The legal responsibility lies squarely on the perpetrators of the crime but, arguably the moral responsibility of the crimes committed by the criminals who utilize this software lies on the makers of the software as the software is helping to secure the criminals by giving them anonymity to conduct their immoral activities. The makers of the software are actually supporting the immoral activities indirectly. From a moral point of view, the makes of the software contribute partly to the crime committed by the criminals. The law may not hold them accountable for these crimes but they will forever remain accomplices to crime in the eyes of the public whose security has been compromised by the production and the marketing of this software.
US Government should not allow the implementation of Publius.
The security of their people is the primary focus of any government and access to private information on the World Wide Web is not meant to punish the citizens, neither is it meant to intimidate or punish them; it is meant to safeguard their lives and their property. One of the positive contributions of the ability of the government to access information on the World Wide Web is the disruption of the activities of criminals and terrorists. Most criminals and terrorists thrive in countries that have weak surveillance methods and the use of the Publius on the World Wide Web will effectively create a place where criminals are less vulnerable to apprehension as it makes surveillance much more difficult for governments and other regulating bodies. Other crimes that can be fought using the use of the subpoena powers include money laundering and theft of identity. Identity theft is a relatively new crime that has had negative economic impacts on many countries, especially the US and many other developed countries, and though access to private information on the World Wide Web alone may not help in mitigating the crime of identity thefts, it can play a major role in the prevention of the crime. Mass surveillance, especially during this age of digital revolution, is necessary to curb the wide range of cyber crimes that may threaten the security of a nation, much like surveillance that is required in the ‘real world’. While the privacy of individuals is important, it is not more important than the security of a country or a whole society; if it means that the invasion of the person’s right to privacy will tackle cyber crime and other economic crimes that are being engendered digitally, then digital surveillance is highly justified. So long as the purpose of the surveillance is in the best interest of the welfare of the society as a whole, web and social site surveillance by governments and other regulatory bodies are justified and needed. A lot of crimes can be carried out on the web especially in sites like facebook and the data that may be retrieved from such sites is necessary for authorities in their security and anti-economic crimes surveillance. Google has a history of cooperating with various governments in their security surveillance. Some governments have used Google’s features like Geo-location to conduct surveillance that has led to apprehension of criminals in various parts of the world. This form of surveillance is highly justifiable because criminals often use web facilities to conduct their wide ranges of crime that may be economically hazardous or a security threat. Sleepwalking into a society of surveillance is better than plunging into a criminal society at the expense of our rights to privacy. Terrorism and kidnappings are crimes that can be easily wiped away through mobile phone surveillance by the law-enforcing authorities ability to access GPS locations and other location information from mobile devices. The police should have wide-ranging powers to request a court warrant to access information from a provider if there is a real threat to the security, health or the general welfare of the public, or an individual. There may be complications that arise if this information is accessed by unwanted parties but so long as the information is used to serve the interests of the public, then this surveillance is very necessary. With this in mind, the US government would be taking one step backward in the war against cyber crime if it allowed the marketing of the Publius software because this software would end up complicating many of its intelligence efforts. The government should not in any way allow the implementation of this potentially harmful software because security of the population should override privacy of the individual. Security and privacy are both basic human rights which should be upheld to the highest standard possible for all people; in many cases privacy can and should be granted to individuals but, only to the degree that the individual upholds the society’s right to create a safe environment for its members. Now that Publius offers an opportunity for criminals to hide their activities, it compromises the security of a nation which has within the last one decade been vulnerable to various terrorist attacks. The software should be banned for the sake of security and justice of the people of the United States of America and even the global populace.
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