Should the public police the Internet?

May 8, 2008

keyboardhand-sherwincrasto.jpg In an age of viruses, fraud and identity theft, who should be responsible for policing the Internet?

Governments, private security companies and law enforcement agencies all play a part in tackling cyber-crime.

But author and academic Jonathan Zittrain argues that we should be wary of “locking down” the Internet with increasing amounts of centralised rules and sealed gadgets that can’t be tinkered with.

In a new book published by Penguin and Yale University Press, he says part of the answer lies in greater freedom and trust, rather than more rules or technological solutions.

We don’t have police on every street corner in the real world, so why have that online, he asks?

People should be encouraged to see themselves as “netizens” — active participants in the online world, rather than passive consumers of Internet content.

They could share the load of policing the net, reporting threats and working together to combat the risks.

He says Wikipedia has shown that online collaboration can work.

“The challenge to the technologists is to build technologies to let people of good faith help without having to devote their lives to it,” he says.

Supporters say it’s just common sense, while at least one critic has described the approach as “utopian”. Who do you think should shoulder the burden of Internet security?


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Authors and academics such as Jonathan Zittrain and his contemporaries are largely responsible for the fact that the Internet today comes with built-in anonymity but no built-in security. Wise fools they may be, but only fools could have believed that what they were constructing could turn out any other way. They are part of the problem, not part of the solution.One can be provocative and further suggest that they are also responsible for the widespread belief amongst the “Napster” generation that one can have an economy based entirely on theft and subsidy. In other words, for the fact that today we really DO need a policemen on every street corner in the real world as well as online.

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive

Police it where needed – sites or forums that target children should be closed down, as should sites that are scams.The great thing about the internet is that there is such a wealth of diverse information readily available, even if it is information on how to grow stronger strains of skunk cannabis or make homemade drugs and bombs. Freedom of expression and freedom of information are paramount and it sometimes seems as though the internet is their last sanctuary.Of course people should report crime if they come across it on the internet, just as they should in ‘real life’ but people should also mind their own business and get out more.

Posted by Tom Morgan | Report as abusive