Y2K Hysteria? Try internet terrorism

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

RENO ON SUNDAY Y2K Hysteria? Try Internet Terrorism

THE Y2K PROBLEM turned out to be a disaster primarily to people who went out and bought hordes of freeze-dried foods and electrical generators they may never use.

As a millennium-ending disaster it flopped even in those less developed parts of the world where Y2K preparations were thought to have lagged and where resistance to hysteria was greater than in advanced nations. Still, more recent events suggest that we have yet to see a fraction of the mischief that will be accomplished through the Internet and its computer-driven culture. And the shutting down of a handful of popular Web sites last week was just one of them.

These in turn will provoke the counter-technology lunatics to greater hysteria.

As they rave on against the godless computer, Theodore J. Kaczynski, the Unabomber, thoroughly objects to being called one of them. In a court filing, he recently denounced his lawyers, who were only trying to save him from the death penalty, for portraying him as a "grotesque lunatic." He obviously prefers to be known as a highly lucid and thoroughly depraved bomber of innocent professors.

Anyway, it looked like a thoroughly innocent corporate gesture when Ford Motor Co. announced it would provide fully-loaded Hewlett-Packard home computers with color printers to each of its 350,000 employees and hook them up to the Internet for $5 a month. And it probably was. Delta Air Lines announced a similar and only slightly less generous deal for its 72,000 employees, including flight attendants.

But then a week later it was revealed that on orders of a federal magistrate in Minnesota, another airline, Northwest, had just searched 20 computer hard drives at flight attendants' homes and union offices. This was part of a dispute between Northwest and the Teamsters Union over an allegedly orchestrated sick-out among its 11,000 flight attendants.

Just imagine how easily Delta and Ford's more conspiracy-minded workers will get the idea that their companies' gift of free computers is a diabolical plot to reach into their homes and conduct an industrial reign of terror as complete as anything old Henry Ford's club-wielding company police enforced against labor organizers up until 1941. You don't need a screw as loose as a Unabomber's to see the possibility.

Anyway, last week's mass assault on the Web sites, which were blasted with hits and data, is particularly curious because while its motives are not clear, at least two things are. One is that it didn't take especially bright people to do it. Another is that it's amazing it hadn't happened sooner. Given that everything from rapes to pederastic acts have been traced to the Internet, why did it take so long for some bored college techno-freaks to get the cute idea of simulating 100 million people suddenly calling up Yahoo! at the same instant? I foresee some interesting liability questions in this fiasco. If these morons used an unattended computer at some company or university to accomplish their assault, will the computer's owner be held responsible? If somebody uses your car and runs over a pedestrian, you can get sued by the victim. Are computer owners similarly liable for the damage their computers do? So dumb us. We should have guessed a lot sooner that one of among the many things the Internet would make easier would be sociopathic behavior.

We all know where this is leading us. To catch these vandals who are mucking up our precious Internet will require extraordinary measures that can easily end up invading the privacy of both the innocent and the guilty. To catch these hackers will require a fine-tooth comb that could also catch blameless people seeking cross-dressers in chat rooms, even ambitious flight attendants plotting matrimony with pilots.

When I was growing up, sociopathic teenagers at spring break or on Halloween went out and tipped cows, played mailbox baseball, soaped windows, put an outhouse in the town square or did piggish things with water-filled condoms.

Bored college students mooned the dean, festooned the founder's statue with toilet paper or conducted panty raids. Basically, what we have created is Halloween 365 nights a year.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), February 13, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ