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Intellectual Property, Privacy, and Security

Resource on Intellectual Property, Privacy, and Security

Institutions such as schools, libraries, and community centers have an interest in encouraging their constituents to use information in lawful and ethical ways. This interest arises not only from a concern for education or for good citizenship -- in some circumstances, an institution that allows its equipment or facilitates to be used in ways that infringe someone's legal rights may -- along with the infringing individual -- be held liable. This risk is present when dealing with such rights as those based on the law of intellectual property, communications, privacy, or torts such as defamation.

This section has two parts: the first deals with intellectual property and the second with privacy and security. Each part provides basic information about these topics, then offers hypothetical scenarios to illustrate how these ideas apply on the Information Superhighway.

It is important to recognize the potential legal exposure without overreacting, and to use common sense in deciding how to respond. Institutions can perform a valuable role in educating their constituents about the legal issues involved in using the Information Superhighway, and in adopting clear policies and guidelines. In some circumstances, particularly in dealing with children, ongoing supervision may be appropriate. On the other hand, once general policies are in place, judgment calls will have to be made for each particular type of use as to what constitutes an appropriate method of supervision and whether the benefits are worth a possible increased risk of liability. The advice of counsel familiar with the issues in each area of the law would be valuable in establishing frameworks to support these policies and judgments.

In developing flexible policies concerning browsing on the Information Superhighway and contributing information, it is useful to encourage teachers and administrators to keep abreast of what users are doing on the Information Superhighway, at least when using the school, library, or community center equipment. Teachers, librarians, and community center personnel should incorporate network-related interests in the curriculum. One method might be to ask students to report on what they like to do on the Information Superhighway. Instead of leaving a student alone with decisions about the legality or ethics of sharing certain material with others in given situations, decisions that students may not yet be mature enough to make, the exchanges should become part of the student's learning experience. By encouraging the open discussion of network activities among students, teachers may have an early indication of problem areas.

For example, although many schools have strict guidelines prohibiting students from giving out personal information on the Internet, a situation could arise where a student is enticed to provide information about his community, school, or family to an entity running a homepage that appears to be a reputable company, but then proceeds to use the information for commercial purposes. In such a situation, it may be necessary for the teacher to alert the school authorities, who can obtain legal guidance on how to proceed.

Rights and interests are rarely absolute. In a classic formulation, the Supreme Court said that the right of free speech does not entitle one to shout "fire" in a crowded theater. Similarly, there may be constraints, overlaps, and conflicts between rights related to intellectual property, privacy, and security interests. For example, the ability to engage in private or anonymous communications does not mean that it is acceptable to use the ability to infringe on someone else's intellectual property rights. As computer networks extend everyone's ability to communicate and share information, there may be a tension between the exercise of those abilities and the legitimate interests of others. Administrators need to be aware of the possibility that conflicts may arise and must be prepared to take action to prevent abuses.

Section 3 is divided into two parts, the first dealing with intellectual property and the second with privacy and security. Each part first provides a primer containing basic information about these topics, then provides some hypothetical scenarios explaining how these ideas apply on the Information Superhighway. When appropriate, Intellectual Property, Privacy, and Security Principles adopted by the Council are referenced. (These principles can be found in either the Council's Policy Document or the Council's midterm report, Common Ground.)

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