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Global Information Infrastructure -- some concerns
From: David Farber <farber () central cis upenn edu>
Date: Thu, 16 Feb 1995 18:47:35 -0500

Living in the Global Information Infrastructure
-- some concerns

David Farber
The Alfred Fitler Moore Professor of Telecommunication Systems
University of Pennsylvania

Remarks prepared for the
AAAS Annual Meeting
Panel on
Potholes along the Information Superhighway?
Atlanta Georgia
Feb 18, 1995


Vice President Gore has proposed that the nations of the
world undertake the building of a Global Information
Infrastructure -- the GII. While most leaders agree with
the sprit of the Gore proposal -- namely to provide a
mechanism which could invigorate the world economy in the
forthcoming information age, many disagree with his belief
that it will bring democracy to the world. They interpret
such statements as being another example of American
colonialism. It is this basic lack of uniform global
agreement on what terms mean, what rules apply to
electronic commerce and what impact a GII will have on
their nation that underlies the comments I will make. These
raise questions about the universality of Cyberspace. I
would like, in this brief note, to ask a set of questions
that may stimulate some thinking in this area.


John Perry Barlow is credited with having observed that
"Our Bill of Rights is but a local ordinance in
Cyberspace". He was referring to the fact that the basic
rights which we hold self evident are only self evident to
our society and are not accepted worldwide. Similarly our
notions of morality, law, right and wrong are European
centric and are not accepted uniformly worldwide. Our
society is individually oriented. The rights of the
individual often take priority over the rights of society
as a whole. This view is certainly not a world wide view.
Asia, especially Singapore, is fond of pointing out that
the Asian view puts the group first and the individual  is
viewed in the light of what is good for the group. What
"side" will Cyberspace citizens take in this very profound
cultural argument? Can both views live compatibly in a
closely coupled cyber-world?

In Cyberspace individual national laws and customs, which
are often different and contradictory, may conspire to
limit the ability of individuals and corporations to freely
interchange information, ideas, images and spoken works
even when those items are legal and appropriate in the
nation of one of the participants. Many societies
currently, for example, limit the availability of satellite
dishes. Several governments have equated internet access.
along with the fax machine. as the prime vehicles for
external disturbances to their control of their society and
have stated that in the event of any future internal
disturbances they will severe the internet connections
rapidly. What will be the impact of such attitudes on
international commerce and learning?

The privacy laws that many governments have reasonably
instituted to protect their citizens from having their
personal information flow outside the control of the laws
of their nation raises many difficulties when on is engaged
in a GII environment. The establishment of directory
structures which involve some nation's citizens may be in
violation of the laws of that nation. Libel laws are
traditionally national yet in Cyberspace, libel is
instantaneous and globally damaging. Is there a notion of
global liability? How do I sue a person in another nation?
If I can, do we achieve the lowest common denominator? Is
there a global "right to privacy"? How is it enforced? What
happens to global commerce if there is not a common

Many nations and cultures have dramatically different
perceptions of what is "proper" and not proper for its
citizens to possess or  to view. Consider an extreme case
-- child pornography.  We in the United States have strong
laws which forbid the distribution. possession etc. of such
material -- other cultures may not agree with us or have
different notions of the control of such material. Suppose
citizens of two such countries send each other such
material and the material transits the United States; is
storage on a US computer (without the knowledge of the
owner of the computer) against the law ?etc. Can or should
the US intercept such material and "delete" it, should they
arrest the people when they next enter the US, should they
close down the computer used to store the material.

Is there an international agreement on the transport of
cryptographic material across national boundaries?  Is
there a right of "innocent" passage -- that is , it is
bound for another nation and just stops for a short stay --
mail relays for example? What is the right of a nation to
monitor the contents or addresses of electronic
communications that is transiting their nation?

The Cyber-economy

As the GII becomes more a part of the everyday business of
the nations, it will become more and more necessary for
commerce to take place among the users of the
infrastructure. We can expect in a very short period an
international electronic marketplace where goods of all
types -- merchandise, information, software etc. are being
bought and sold.

Historically there has always been a need to create a way
of paying for such goods in order to motivate the supply
side of the marketplace. Currently our primitive electronic
marketplaces have no very effective mechanisms for paying
for goods.

This creates an interesting and exciting opportunity to
examine just what is needed to supply a mechanism for the
exchange of electronic currency and how such a mechanism
can exist in a national and international arena.

The issues raised by the potential existence of an
international electronic marketplace  (IEM) are not limited
to just  how to pay for things. There is the need to have
the equivalent of credit cards, checks and paper money with
it various shades of traceability and privacy. There is the
need for escrow mechanisms and international exchange etc.

The additional issues raised by the IEM include:

o The use of small payments as the mechanism for enabling
the marketing of hypermedia documents where the links are
access paths to updated and marketable property. The
crossings of the links require the payment of a fee
(electronically and capable of allowing very small
payments). For example having accessed the information once
if I copy it and give it to a colleague I have lost the
ability to search for sub-links and automatic updates.

o authentication of sellers and buyers when necessary and
the protection of that information when required

o privacy and personal freedom issues as to what I buy and from whom.

o the integration of any such system into the domestic and
international banking and funds transfer systems as well as
the different laws and regulations of states, countries and
needs of law enforcement
the need to internationalize buyer protection laws


Nowhere are the challenges greater than in the
possibilities that the GII offers in education. There is no
better way to create international understanding,
friendship and exchange than communication and cooperation
between schools and students all over the world at all
levels. Education applications  cover most potential uses
of the GII and impose demanding requirements on the
infrastructure. Education is also an area where the public
interest is evident.

The role of the universities in educating the citizens who
will lead their nations into this future calls upon them to
pioneer the exploration of the benefits to be gained as
well as the problems to be faced in this new world.
Exploration of the Modern Worldwide Multi-Campus
University-University of Cyberspace-interacting with lower
grade schools and continuing education to provide
individual-centered lifelong learning, should therefore be
included in the G-7 vision. The intent should be not to
just perform experiments with exchange of courses over the
network but rather to explore, understand and solve the
complicated issues of inter-organizational operation,
economics, national laws and tradition that must be solved
in order to create such an extended University.  Perhaps
most important, however, we must understand how such an
organization can enrich University life for the students as
well as the faculty. The design of the University must
address this issue with highest priority if it is to be a

A group of Universities strongly believe that the lessons
to be learned from this effort will show the way for better
understanding of how industry and governments can use the
GII.1 This effort will contribute to new strategic
knowledge necessary to cope with the global structural
change of the telecommunications, media and information
industries which is expected to lead to an information
society. This rapid change calls for extraordinary programs
in research and education to provide the competence
necessary in government, industry, among users and all
parts of society. However, the most important outcome will
be to create a new generation of future leaders who have
lived and learned in the borderless world of the GII and
who thus will be better prepared to understand and control
the structural changes being created by the information
society inorder to secure fuller more meaningful employment
and social welfare for their people.


The reader may have noticed that mostly I have asked
questions. I believe that  answering theses questions will
eventually require us to face the real issues of national
sovereignty in Cyberspace and whether or not we will
maintain for ever  the fiction of national boundaries that
extend not only into inter-planetary space but also  into

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