Keeping Up With the Times

After my encounter with an excessive plethora of unexpected internet viruses, and the comments from readers, my wife the professor made the observation, “The law hasn’t kept up with the internet.”  We both laughed, because it is so obvious as to be totally laughable.  It’s also laughable in a sadder way because it’s become apparent that the law will never be able to keep up with the internet… and quite possibly with other aspects of advanced technology.

For years now, a number of high-tech companies have been trying to protect themselves with not only patents, but with secret and secretive production processes, sometimes, I’ve been told, forgoing patent protection because they believe that a patent is a roadmap for a competitor.  At the same time, we have so-called genetics companies trying to patent genes obtained or derived from people and other organisms, which suggests some fairly frightening future scenarios.

Then there’s the growing reliance on high-speed information technology and information transfer.  As I’ve mentioned earlier, nanoseconds matter in the world of securities trading, and the fact that they do requires almost total reliance on high-speed computers and sophisticated algorithms.  The federal government is pushing for standardized electronic medical records, and pretty much every state government, every major corporation, and every federal department and agency is becoming increasingly reliant on such technologies.

And yet, this increasingly complex and interdependent web of information makes both our economy, as well as its underlying infrastructure, and thus not only our economy, but every industry and service, ever more vulnerable to technological disruptions, the causes of which could range from massive solar flares to inspired hackers, dedicated and sophisticated cyber terrorists, foreign computer operatives, and unexpected algorithm failures or applications.

We don’t have a legal structure that is designed to deal adequately with either massive electronic misfeasance or malfeasance, and even if we did, we don’t have the means to track down even a fraction of the perpetrators, let alone a way to legally and physically punish them.  And it’s highly unlikely that we ever will. This is not a problem unknown in human history.  In fact, in a sense, we deal with it every day, because no government anywhere can monitor all its people all the time and deal with all the possible violence they could commit. Historically, social codes have been far more important than laws… but social codes only work well with populations that share common values, which raises the overwhelming question, so to speak – what happens when neither laws nor social codes are able to restrict wide-scale information hacking, cyber-sabotage, intellectual property piracy, and out-and-out information systems terrorism? 

It’s clear that some organizations can muster the technology and skills to thwart or counter such; it’s also clear that most of us can’t, not on a continuing ongoing basis. Nor, at present, do most nations have adequate back-ups and alternative infrastructure and communications systems ready to take over in the event of information system failures on a national scale.  Yet the push for greater information technology integration continues, again fueled by promises of lower costs and greater efficiencies… or at least greater efficiencies until everything collapses.

Why isn’t anyone looking at this problem seriously?  Because, of course, it’s too expensive to resolve… and I fear that when people suddenly realize that something needs to be done, it will be far too late.


3 thoughts on “Keeping Up With the Times”

  1. Robert The Addled says:

    Unfortunately, aside from the rapid change in tech, the ingrained bureaucracy of the political process and legacy institutions (in the form of special interest groups) also delay and often deliberately render ineffective the very processes intended to make/change these laws.

    One of practical (if not tech/internet) import is the actions of the taxi companies (legacy institution) trying to prevent an appointment driven competing ride service from operating in NYC and DC-metro areas. And the local elected representatives, at the behest of these special interest legacy groups, has been trying to amend laws to limit the introduction of any competition to these markets.

  2. Ryan Jackson says:

    I see three fairly straight forward reasons for why no one looks at internet crime and it’s associated issued seriously. Respect, privacy and perception.

    Respect because, for better or worse, Cyber and Financial crime is looked at as a weaker job by many in law enforcement. It’s seen as not dealing with “real crime” the way someone in narcotics or homicide does. This means that many financial/internet crime divisions are filled with the rare few who see it otherwise, or those who don’t want to be there.

    Privacy because to deal with much of this we would have to accept federal authority looking into our emails, computers, files, etc. This happens often enough now with subpoenas and justifiable cause and people are already making a fuss. It’d be worse if it was just common.

    Lastly Perspective. As I’ve mentioned before, the credit industry is pretty much on the front line/edge of innovation when it comes to cyber crime since it impacts us so harshly via fraud and identify theft. Unfortionately, we’re the “bad guys”. We’re the big evil company out to steal money from poor struggling civilians just trying to pay their bills… I unfortionately see this on a constant basis. Heck, there are certain states where we will just let a case go even when the evidence tells us something is up, because we know the judges there automatically side against us. This type of perspective kind of hampers us from being as forward and helpful as we could be. Basically no one wants our help and sometimes they don’t listen when we offer it.

    The first and second issue will hopefully change as we move forward. Hopefully meaning that they can take the lead on this issue so that even if the third doesn’t change we can move forward.

  3. Wine Guy says:

    And if the problems of computer viruses is ever solved… or should I say “solved” because I don’t think it ever will be… then those people will be out of work with a lot of spare time on their hands.

    And hackers will be hackers.

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