According to internet folklore, there was once a cartoon in The New Yorker that made a striking comment about the impact of the web on society. With blinding accuracy, the caption stated: 'On the internet no one knows you are a dog.'
Unfortunately, since those innocent days when research assistants from the University of California called Drexler used to chat to like-minded buddies around the world about the development of proteins, the internet has gone mainstream.
The number of internet users has exploded and the cost barrier to entry for PCs and connectivity has plummeted. So, inevitably, the internet is going to get the same problems as the rest of society.
Today, no one knows whether you are dog, a terrorist, a paedophile, or just a very insecure person from Slough who could fall prey to a pack of perverts that lurk in chat rooms and are hell bent on luring the naive, innocent or insecure into unspeakable situations.
But this doesn't have to be the case. There is enough security technology, and a growing number of services available from vendors and resellers, that can help ISPs to tackle the internet's perennial problem: balancing anonymity and personal freedom of expression with the need to create a secure and trusted environment.
Just pulling the plug on a service, or allowing every piece of personal communication potentially to be monitored in the name of preventing terrorism or other undesirable activities, is perhaps not the answer. Like CCTV, it may simply move the problem elsewhere.
Let's face it, we would all be pretty upset if the postie was obliged to open our mail and skim it for 'unsuitable content' before putting it through the letter box.
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