Counter Net crime with a dose of classroom ethics

Tony Blair is worried that a lack of computers at school and high charges for Internet access might leave British kids falling...

Tony Blair is worried that a lack of computers at school and high charges for Internet access might leave British kids falling behind their American counterparts.

Charles Mcgregor

Soapbox

In its election manifesto, the Government promised to link every school in the country to the Internet by the year 2002.

It sounds great, but is giving youngsters greater computer access really such a wonderful in practice?

Security experts welcome British children's increased access to the Internet as a learning resource, but feel that this needs to be combined with lessons in computer ethics. Computers can be used for good as well as for bad. Children must be taught as a part of the computer curriculum that virtual crime has real victims.

That means that cracking Web site passwords is unacceptable and writing computer viruses is wrong.

Unauthorised access and modification of another user's data is a criminal offence. You can sit anonymously at your keyboard, perpetrating your crime without the danger of ever encountering the victim. The Internet detaches the villain from the consequences of their actions. But there are real victims here.

In May, David L Smith will be sentenced for his involvement in the Melissa computer virus distribution, which caused more than $50m worth of damage worldwide, infecting many UK businesses. The damage his virus caused was accentuated by its use of Internet e-mail as a spreading mechanism, crossing the entire world in less than 24 hours. If Smith had been taught about computer ethics, would he now be facing a jail sentence?

Charles McGregor is chief executive of Fibrenet

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