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World's "wild" web sparks fears for the future

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The web is turning into a hazardous environment, and there should be more tech-savvy politicians in government today so better legislation can be established, says an industry-renowned internet guru.

David Farber, distinguished career professor of computer science and public policy, school of computer science, Carnegie Mellon University, said: "The next 10 years will be as wild as the last 25."

Often described as the "grandfather of the internet", because his students went on to become pioneers of the digital medium, Farber spoke yesterday at a public lecture organised by the Singapore Management University's school of information systems.

He expressed concerns the web is developing into a platform that has the potential to do more harm than good.

The internet has evolved from "something that you can do nice things with" to something which people can use to do "not nice things", he said. "That's worrying."

Previously hackers generally wanted the right to boast of having discovered security loopholes but now they seek out vulnerabilities for personal gain, he added.

"It is not a nice environment," he said, noting that security must therefore remain a key focus for the industry.

Legislation will also remain a primary focus for governments, which are struggling to cope with the nature of the internet, Farber said. Things they could do before are getting tougher to do, he said. For example, in the United States there is no easy way to impose taxes for online transactions, when buyers can be located in different countries across the globe, he explained.

"Politicians don't like the internet... they don't like losing control," Farber said. He also lamented the current lack of tech-savvy politicians in office.

"[IT-related] laws are being made and broken by politicians who do not understand technology," he said, noting the US government as an example.

Participating in a panel discussion which followed Farber's lecture, Tan Geok Leng, CTO of technology group at the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), concurred with Farber's assessment that politicians worldwide are typically not fond of losing control.

But Tan noted that governments should also recognise that the internet is a strong vehicle for communications. "So the government has to ensure that the quality of information [on the web] is high so user trust can be maintained," he added.

Another panellist, Professor Lawrence Wong, executive director of Institute for Infocomm Research, Agency for Science, Technology and Research, noted another trend which he described as "the democratisation of the internet", where "anyone can now be a content creator".

"How do we then ensure the integrity of [each piece of] the content?" he said.

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