Change Triggers Challenges

Evolving Internet drops complex issues into the laps of CIOs.

by / June 4, 2004
"The Internet is at a crossroads," said Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain, who gave the keynote address at NASCIO's midyear conference in April. "It's changing, which bears on the work that you are doing," he told CIOs from 38 states who gathered in Chicago for the two-day meeting.

Zittrain, who is co-founder of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, said today's CIOs confront a mix of privacy, copyright and intellectual property concerns triggered by evolving use of the Web.

New services spawned by Internet technology, such as -- a site that shows images collected from cameras located throughout a community so police and citizens can monitor the video for suspicious activity -- can have an uneasy relationship with privacy rights, he said.

Furthermore, he said, previously obscure information is becoming available to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. Details buried in public records, such as court documents and land records, that once required a visit to scattered government offices can now be found online. "If enough innocuous data is gathered and connected, it becomes a privacy problem," said Zittrain.

Even when privacy concerns are fairly well addressed, CIOs face a challenge in managing citizen expectations. For instance, he cited citizen outcry over a pioneering effort by the U.S. Social Security Administration to offer Social Security statements online. Even though the electronic service had adequate security, citizen complaints prompted the agency to replace the service with a simple online request for a mailed document, Zittrian said.

In addition, CIOs may find themselves monitoring Internet content and policing Web users. IT officials in many locations have been asked to identify Internet users who illegally share music files. Copyright laws prohibiting the sharing of recorded music have been on the books for years, but the ease of trading music on the Web thrust the issue into the forefront.

"Copyright law and reality are now in conflict because of the Internet," Zittrian said. "CIOs are getting dragged into the middle of the fight between the music industry and music sharers."

Finally, litigation over the origin of the open source Linux operating system represents another worry for CIOs. Software vendor SCO is demanding $699 for every copy Linux running on servers at Fortune 1000 companies, contending the popular open source operating system includes pieces of the proprietary SCO UNIX. The legal action injects uncertainty into the open source software movement just as more governments are investigating Linux-based solutions to reduce IT costs.

"Changes are afoot on the Internet," he said. "CIOs might find these sorts of things increasingly landing on their desks."
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