The Information Society


Letter from the Editor-in-Chief Rob Kling
14(3) 1998

This special issue of The Information Society, 14(3), includes a special section on The History of the Internet which was organized by Guest Editor Dr. Jon Guice. The issue also includes two articles that examine ethical issues of high technology and the reviews of two related books. 

The issue opens with Gary Marx's "An Ethics For The New Surveillance." He notes that the major privacy guidelines for "new technologies" are almost 30 years old and need to be broadened to take account of new technologies for collecting personal information such as drug testing, video cameras, electronic location monitoring and the Internet. He is also sensitive to the wide variety of contexts of surveillance, from undercover policing through testing airplane pilots for drug use to the agregation and mining of customer data to target customers for new marketing campaigns. He argues that the ethics of a surveillance activity must be judged according to the means, the context and conditions of data collection and the uses/goals. The centerpoint of Marx's article is a list of 29 questions. These cannot be easily summarized; but two examples illustrate the new grouind that he has opened; 

Q 15. Adequate data stewardship and protection: can the security of the data be adequately protected? 

Q 16. Equality-inequality regarding availability and application: a) is the means widely available or restricted to only the most wealthy, powerful or technologically sophisticated? b) within a setting is the tactic broadly applied to all people or only to those less powerful or unable to resist c) if there are means of resisting the provision of personal information are these equally available, or restricted to the most privileged? 

He argues that the more one can answer questions like these in a way that affirms the underlying principle (or a condition supportive of it) the more ethical the use of a tactic is likely to be. He also identifies four conditions that are likely to violate an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy when they are breached. Respect for the dignity of the person is a central factor in his 29 questions. He emphasizes the avoidance of harm to people who are observed, the validity of the methods used, maintaining trust with the broad group of people subject to surveillance, and permission when crossing personal borders. Marx's approach is heuristic rather than rigidly normative and it breaks new ground in helping us develop an ethical stance for "fair surveillance." 

In "The Year 2000 Problem and Ethical Responsibility: A Call to Action" James Cappel and Leon Kappelman expand the typical pragmatic discussions of Year 2000 problems to include an ethical analysis of professional responsibilities. They start by examining the nature of the year 2000 problem, its potential to do harm, the progress that organizations have made to date on this issue, and factors that have worked to inhibit or facilitate organizational responses to this problem. Their ethical analysis reveals that both top management and IS professionals have responsibilities to act on this issue. They urge managers and IS professionals to make the completion of their year 2000 problem efforts a top priority, because it is their responsibility and it serves as an investment for the future. 

The Special section on the History of the Internet opens with an article by Jon Guice, "Looking Backward and Forward at the Internet." He reviews accounts of the origins and growth of the global Internet with an interest in their implications for the future. Many accounts take overly restricted views of technical development. For instance, the Internet is often seen as simply the outgrowth of US Defense Department developments and popular enthusiasm. Recent interdisciplinary studies of technology present a more complex picture of how innovations are developed. They highlight technical alternatives, contributions of diverse groups, variety in meanings of technologies, and overall the surprising character of technology development. Guice indicates how the Internet has multiple origins and that there have been numerous particular reasons for its spread. He also notes how some current discussions of the entry of Internet technologies into consumers' homes and the convergence among computing, media and telecommunications enterprises represent examples of more complex accounts of technology development. He argues that these more complex multicausal accounts are likely provide more powerful bases for policy, management and design. 

In "Internetworking and the Politics of Science: NSFNET in Internet History," Juan Rogers illustrates Guice's broad argument with a more detailed illustration. His paper presents an account of the process of development of the NSFNET and its significance for the emergence of the INTERNET of the 1990s. He argues that the development of the interconnected system of computer networks occurred within the realm of academic research is not incidental. He shows how the dynamics of the world of scientific research were intimately related to the shaping of the network and to the way in which it spread to other sectors of society. For example, contemporary global networks are not larger relatives of popular networking standards of the 1980s such as IBM's VNET, based on SNA protocols, DECNET via MFENET, (a possibility that was actually considered) or even elaborations and extensions of X.25 computer communications protocols. The TCP/IP protocols, which were identified as the heart of NSFNET, were widely adopted because of their ability to remain flexible and allow many different groups to suit their changing needs within their framework. The design of NSFNET reflected a process of institutionalization and legitimation in science that was achieved in part by creating and embedding information technologies in a set of social relations. The result was a new socio-technical ensemble with many distinctive features. 

In "Scaling Information Infrastructure: The Case of Next Generation IP in Internet," Eric Monteiro examines the negotiations that construct new technological standards. An information infrastructure has to scale, hence change, as it expands. This creates a dilemma. The expansion fuels new patterns of use which require changes while, on the other hand, the diffusion of and investments in the information infrastructure has a strong, conservative influence - the inertia of the installed base. The changes required to implement the scaling have to be small-step so that an information infrastructure is not "changed", it undergoes transitions. These transitions are highly involved socio-technical negotiations. Monteiro's article is based on a case study of the efforts to change the Internet protocol (IP) in Internet to facilitate further growth. The revision of IP is the most serious challenge to the continued scaling of the Internet during its near 30 years of existence. 

The issue ends with two book reviews. Paul Gray reviews Converging Infrastructures: Intelligent Transportation and the National Information Infrastructure edited by Lewis M. Branscom and James H. Keller. And John M. Carroll reviews New Community Networks: Wired for Change by Douglas Schuler. 

You can find a current list of TIS's 26 editorial board members and ways to contact them on the Editorial Board page on TIS's web site: ( If you're writing an article that you would like to submit to TIS for possible publication, I'll try to honor any requests that you make to have a specific editorial board member act as the Associate Editor for your article. You may also discuss your paper with editorial board members when you are planning or writing your article. 

Please check our web site for news on forthcoming issues, calls for papers, and abstracts of articles from previous issues. 

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