Ethics and the Internet

At great human and economic cost, resources drawn from the U.S. government, industry and the academic community have been assembled into a collection of interconnected networks called the Internet. Begun as a vehicle for experimental network research in the mid-1970s, the Internet has become an important national infrastructure supporting an increasingly widespread. multidisciplinary community of researchers ranging, inter alia, from computer scientists and electrical engineers to mathematicians, physicists. medical researchers. chemists. astronomers and space scientists. As is true of other common infrastructures (e.g.. roads, water reservoirs and delivery systems, and the power generation and distribution network), there is widespread dependence on the Internet by its users for the support of day-to-day research activities.

The reliable operation of the Internet and the responsible use of its resources is of common interest and concern for its users. operators, and sponsors. Recent events involving the hosts on the Internet and in similar network infrastructures underscore the need to reiterate the professional responsibility every Internet user bears to colleagues and to the sponsors of the system. Many of the Internet resources are provided by the U.S. Government.

Abuse of the system thus becomes a federal matter above and beyond simple professional ethics.

Statement of Policy

The Internet is a national facility whose utility is largely a consequence of its wide availability and accessibility. Irresponsible use of this critical resource poses an enormous threat to its continued availability to the technical community. The U.S. government -- sponsors of this system -- suffers when highly disruptive abuses occur. Access to and use of the Internet is a privilege and should be treated as such by all users of this system. The Internet Activities Board (IAB) strongly endorses the view of the Division Advisory Panel of the National Science Foundation Division of Network, Communications Research and Infrastructure which. in paraphrase, characterized as unethical and unacceptable any activity which purposely:

The Internet exists in the general research milieu. Portions of it continue to be used to support research and experimentation on networking. Because experimentation on the Internet has the potential to affect all of its components and users, researchers have the responsibility to exercise great caution in the conduct of their work. Negligence in the conduct on Internet-wide experiments is both irresponsible and unacceptable.

The IAB plans to take whatever actions it can, in concert with Federal agencies and other interested parties, to identify and to set up technical and procedural mechanisms to make the Internet more resistant to disruption. Such security, however, may be extremely expensive and may be counterproductive if it inhibits the free flow of information which makes the Internet so valuable. In the final analysis, the health and well-being of the Internet is the responsibility of its users who must, uniformly, guard against abuses which disrupt the system and threatens its long-term viability.

Vint Cerf
lnternet Activities Board
From Communications of the ACM, Vol. 32, No. 6, June 1989.
Copyright ACM


Last updated 94/12/06

Reprinted with permission on ACM under a blanket agreement to the Virginia Tech Educational Infrastructure Grant, 1993.