The cyberspace conundrum: finding the balance between freedom and security

“The Net enables lives that were previously impossible, or inconvenient, or uncommon.”

This thought-provoking statement by Lawrence Lessig (2006, p.20) magnificently voices the new kind of society that cyberspace has enabled – one which is simultaneously liberating and criminal.

According to Lessig (2006, p.18), cyberspace is a unique space distinct from physical reality. It is an inherently uncontrollable and decentralised free space where individuals can escape the constraints of real space sovereigns (Lessig 2006, p.18).

Paedophiles now see chat rooms as a safer way than a playground to approach kids. Minors can gain easy access to materials with explicit sexual content. In cyberspace, the barriers that exist in the physical world are eradicated.

Government regulation is, thus, paramount to protect ourselves from the vulnerabilities that persist. Yet regulation is also a threat to our anonymity, free speech, privacy and individual autonomy – the fundamental liberties that we cherish in real-life. Perhaps, then, just as people living in the 19th century had to sacrifice accuracy for speed with the arrival of the electrical telegraph, experiencing ‘life’ in cyberspace may require forgoing the pleasures of freedom for the ultimate security of safety.

Check out my Prezi infographic on online child predators here!

Reference List:

Lessig, L 2006, ‘Four puzzles from cyber space’, in L. Lessig (ed.), Code 2.0, Basic Books, New York p.9-28.

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15 thoughts on “The cyberspace conundrum: finding the balance between freedom and security

  1. Your info graphic was very informative. Many of the statistics actually really shocked me. Statistics like “90% of children aged 8-16 have seen online pornography”, “20% of all pornography involves children” and “69% of teens regularly receive online communications from strangers and don’t tell a parent or caretaker” is extremely worrying. I have always been weary of the idea of overregulation of the Internet due to the potential consequences to free speech. However statics like this make it very clear that regulation is completely necessary.

    • Hi Jacqueline. Thank you for your comment. The statistics are certainly alarming. I think it is important that the penalties applying to child abuse offences in the real-world match the penalties applying to offences in cyberspace. This is due to the fact that virtual world offences can still have real-world effects for victims and their families. This needs to be accounted for in legislation, which, as you mention, is completely necessary.

  2. Hello Giverny! Excellent blog post! You raise a really interesting point when you talk about government regulation and how the qualities it protects in real life are the things that need to be regulated in our virtual lives. I wonder if there is a way to find a balance in the regulation or whether we will have to sacrifice freedom for safety. Both are important qualities.

    • Hello Jacob! Thank you for your comment. It would definitely be ideal to be able to balance the principle of freedom of expression with the right of people to be protected from illegal or harmful material. The idea of self-regulation is an interesting area to investigate around this issue. Can filtering be used as an effective means of tackling harmful content and protecting minors? A number of technological solutions exist, however, this implies a level of personal (i.e. parental) responsibility. It is certainly an interesting area of public debate.

  3. Great read! I especially enjoyed the infographic you put together on prezi – it was really clear and gave some quite confronting facts. It’s an interesting issue we’ve created for ourselves through the internet; demanding safety and protection but desiring the freedom, access and anonymity technology allows.

    • Hi Jayden! Thanks for commenting. I really enjoyed creating the infographic as it opened my eyes to the severity of the issue. Finding a balance between these various competing interests and values is indeed challenging. It is interesting that you mention it is an issue we’ve created for ourselves through the Internet. I found a great article last week on how criminals are now using cyber attack tools to carry out theft and commit fraud in the real-world (see here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet-security/11118866/Eugene-Kaspersky-traditional-crime-is-coming-to-cyberspace.html). This is an interesting example of how information networks have given rise to new forms of crime (in this case – real-world crimes). This just goes to show how cyberspace poses one of the greatest challenges regulators and law enforcers have ever faced, particularly as the distinction between real-world crime and cybercrime becomes increasingly blurred.

  4. I found the angle of your blog most interesting – looking at first the positive aspects that cyberspace brings to the table, but also flushing out the negative concepts that arise was an effective way to communicate your blog. I agree with you that government regulation is paramount to protect individuals’ security through maintaining censorship. However as you highlight, such regulation encroaches on our freedoms and right to express our opinion. Its a very fine line between the two of course. Perhaps you could have included some personal thoughts, as it is always valuable to see what other peoples opinions are of any topic – do you think we currently strike a correct balance between protection and expression of liberties?

    • Hi Charlotte. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Researching statistics about online child predators has led me to believe that regulation is absolutely essential – even despite its consequences on our individual liberties. However, as Lessig mentions at the end of the reading, there is a particular skepticism about how government regulation works in the digital age. This was particularly the case after news leaked of the classified US surveillance program, PRISM. I think that if we were properly educated and informed about government security and surveillance and how it works, we might not be as skeptical (and cynical). Certainly, I do not believe our privacy and rights should be compromised by warrantless surveillance. The government definitely needs greater transparency in this regard.

  5. Fascinating how you’ve used the Lessig piece to zoom on the stark choice we are facing with regards to the net and our notions of privacy. The thing about technologies, perhaps the key insight in fact, is that every enhancement is also an amputation.

    Cheers
    Ted

    • Hi Ted! Thank you for your comment. I really enjoyed reading Lessig’s article and the story of Jake, who used cyberspace to escape the constraints of the real-world. This notion of dual-lives is most fascinating. It is really interesting to look at the way cyberspace is re-conceputalising the fundamental notions of reality. As you mention, it appears as though the myriad of new possibilities and opportunities brought about by information networks are being constantly outweighed by the new conflicts that emerge.

  6. Wow, you raise some great points! The title “finding the balance between freedom and security” pretty much summarises how I have been feeling about this week’s topic – conflicted. Your blog raised some great points I hadn’t considered. When I first started thinking about the topic, I began thinking about the control the government and other organisations have over our Internet use, and the restraints that have been placed on this ‘utopia’. However, on reading your post I do agree that we definitely need some regulation when it comes to protection from online predators. It’s something I hadn’t thought about, but the reality is that as much as we would love the Internet to be this free, equal, wonderful community, there are people out there who won’t treat it that way. And there does need to be protection from those who are going to take advantage of the technology and use it negatively. In order to maintain the great things about cyberspace, we need to have some restriction to prevent the not-so-great things.
    Thanks for challenging my thinking! Great infographic, too!

    • Hi Molly. Thank you for your comment. It’s always great to hear other people’s perspectives on this issue. I definitely agree with you that some form of regulation is required. However, as you mention, finding a balance between these two conflicting ideals is challenging. It almost appears as though achieving a cyberspace that enables users to operate freely, and where “evil” is defeated, is a utopian dream.

  7. super interesting read, its so scary to think that theres so many online predators and many more that are not online. I really enjoyed the infographic Prezi it really made the post have more of an impact. However i think that there will always be a way around regulation and that one can never really be fully protected online.

    • Hello Emily. Thank you for your comment. It is definitely alarming to read statistics about online predators. I think you raise a great point that users are able to circumvent regulation. This is certainly a challenging issue. It will be very interesting to see how policymakers respond to these threats, particularly as everyday people become increasingly skilled and knowledgable about software and security.

  8. The notion that cyberspace is ‘simultaneously liberating and criminal’ is one that I completely agree with and I’m trying really hard to process too. I constantly get caught up with being able to see the benefits of government surveillance (safety, obvs) but then realising that it is at a cost to freedom. And add on top of that, the possibility of corruption and exploitation of the information cyberspace has on us. Your prezi is super informative, especially relating to such a sensitive, important issue. Makes me realise that society as a whole needs to really re-think privacy in a digital world.

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