Cyber Crime Transforms Legal Landscape From free-flowing blogs to social networks and Wikipedia, creating legal regulations for behavior on the Web is a specialty evolving as rapidly as innovations on the Internet. A growing number of law schools are answering the call.
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Cyber Crime Transforms Legal Landscape

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Cyber Crime Transforms Legal Landscape

Cyber Crime Transforms Legal Landscape

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Let's listen in to a class on cyber law.

Professor JONATHAN ZITTRAIN (Internet Governance and Regulation; Director of Graduate Studies, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford): So, report of submission, time stamped; the evidence is presented, the comments are made.

HANSEN: We sent a producer to the basement of Griswald Hall at Harvard Law School to record this lively group of students and their professor as they discuss their most recent assignment. Their task is to resolve disputes taking place on the Web site

(Soundbite of a class discussion)

HANSEN: This month, we're reporting on cyber crime. This week, our series continues with the issue of cyber law. It's a rapidly growing field. Cyber security expert Jim Lewis says as companies, individuals and governments increasingly use the Internet, they're entering unfamiliar legal territory.

Mr. JIM LEWIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies): They move their activities. That means there's legal problems. That means there's value. That means there's disputes. We're in a period of transition, and part of that transition is adjusting both our laws and our legal workforce to be able to deal with the new environment.

(Soundbite of a class discussion)

HANSEN: Jonathan Zittrain knows a lot about that new environment. He also knows about preparing the legal profession. Zittrain has been teaching students about law in the Internet for the past decade. Currently, he's a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and he took a moment from his class to explain cyber law to us.

Prof. ZITTRAIN: There was a period in the late 1990s, when cyber law was: How do I make a lot of money on the Internet? So electronic commerce came to the fore, venture capital funding - all of these elements of building a business in a hurry and taking it public, that became part of cyber law. I think now, cyber law is being thought of more holistically as what are the distinct ways in which the networks and the objects hooked up to them are empowering people, both to do great new things, and to hurt each other terribly and how can we maximize the former and minimize the latter.

HANSEN: What do you consider to be the most pressing cyber law issues?

Prof. ZITTRAIN: The most pressing cyber law issues to me have to do with what I call maintaining a generative network, and by generative, I mean open to innovation and creation by outsiders. When we look at some of the most interesting innovations that have happened on the Internet, they've surprisingly been from corners that weren't well funded, that weren't planned out and they weren't incumbents.

The man named Jimbo came out to you in 2001 and said I've got a great idea. It's an encyclopedia that will be rivaling Britannica in quality and timeliness, and it will be edited by anyone in the world. Anybody can add or delete or edit an article. I think any of us might have said, Jimbo, you're nuts. And yet, somehow, here's Wikipedia and it's working.

HANSEN: But doesn't it bring up certain issues, for example, if someone's biography is up there and you…

Prof. ZITTRAIN: Absolutely.

HANSEN: …get someone changing it?

Prof. ZITTRAIN: Absolutely. We could very quickly doctrinally say, why, that's defamation. That's harm someone's reputation. That's spreading lies about them. And just as if you were to publish a newspaper article defaming somebody and then have to pay for it, I suppose somebody creating a Wikipedia article about somebody to defame them might have to pay. You'd have to find them and hope that they're not 12 and/or poor. I think it turns to intermediary liability.

Under what circumstances could we say to Wikipedia and others in Wikipedia's position, you have a legal duty to police what others are putting up about people and to make sure either that you tell us who they are when they get into trouble or that you police the content of the articles themselves.

HANSEN: I want to talk a little bit about the social networks, the sites like Facebook or MySpace. This is where people voluntarily put up a lot of personal information about themselves. And once that information is out there, they don't really own it anymore. So what problems do you foresee that these users are likely to encounter?

Prof. ZITTRAIN: I think we've just seen the tip of the iceberg on the privacy problems. In my view, the real problems are going to come as we deploy a little bit more technology. And I don't think it's unrealistic or science fiction to say that as you - or a tourist, and you go about taking pictures of your family around the world, those pictures that you take are flowing immediately up to a Web site like Flickr or Facebook. They're getting tagged automatically with the identity through facial recognition, not only of your family in foreground but of other people in the restaurant in the background and then will be able to create a database and say who came into and out of this restaurant between this hour and this hour, or who was in front of this Planned Parenthood clinic, or who was participating in this demonstration or this rally for a political candidate.

And it's these sorts of things that I don't think we've fully confronted yet that really will lead to a level of transparency, ironically, not being brought about by Big Brother government or even by big snoop credit-reporting agency or business but by an army of the world's tourists - ourselves - for completely innocuous reasons.

HANSEN: Zittrain says the fact that society is still trying to figure out how to deal with the legal minefield of the Internet is a healthy thing. He also says that innovations and technology, as well as social networks on the Internet itself, may help solved some of the problems.

In his current class, Zittrain has a couple of teaching assistants who help pull up slides and often facilitate discussion. The students took his class last year. We asked one of them, Elizabeth Stark(ph), what she'd learn from her experiences with cyber law.

Ms. ELIZABETH STARK: The digital space provides a new context in which to examine all of these other areas of laws. So I think the one thing that I've taken with me is that we do - we need to reexamine law in the context of the technologies that will enable you to copy anything, to communicate insidiously.

(Soundbite of a class discussion)

HANSEN: In a typical class, Professor Zittrain covers subjects ranging from ownership of the Internet to self-governance online. To supplement his lectures, guest speakers are often invited to share their expertise. So we introduced a guest of our own to Elizabeth Stark. We put her on the phone with Kevin Mitnick, who was once America's most famous computer hacker. He spent nearly five years in prison and now works as a cyber security consultant.

Ms. STARK: Very cool. I've seen a movie about him actually. Kevin, hi.

Mr. KEVIN MITNICK (Cyber Security Consultant, Mitnick Security Consulting): Hi, Elizabeth.

Ms. STARK: I'm actually wondering, has your very vast experience in the field of hacking caused you to change your mind or take stances on issues regarding, say, freedom on the Internet, cyber security, pretty much anything regarding activism or policy with technology.

Mr. MITNICK: Well, for example, the - this, you know, I disagree with the policies about allowing the National Security Agency basically to data mine American citizens' telephone calls and Internet usages. I believe that our civil liberties and the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure are really important.

HANSEN: Professor Zittrain also had the chance to ask Mitnick a question.

Prof. ZITTRAIN: For the listener who is about to put holiday photos online and do banking and buy stuff and all those other great stuff and is wondering whether that's a dumb idea, what's your advice?

Mr. MITNICK: Well, I do online banking. I pay my credit cards online. I do everything online. I think there's more of a benefit to using the tools on the Internet rather than the fear of being compromised. With the important advice I could have is don't become the low-hanging fruit for the attacker out there.

HANSEN: We'll hear more from Kevin Mitnick as our cyber crime series continues. Our thanks to Jonathan Zittrain, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School.

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