Computer information systems present a whole slew of legal issues. Whenever a new form of communication emerges, there is a concern that, along with legitimate users will come some abusers. Just as a bulletin board system can be used for political debate, it can also be used as an outlet for defamation. How should this be treated? Who is liable? Is it the user who originally posted the defamation, or the system operator who controls and provides the forum? Currently, these are hotly debated issues.

Whenever a new communications medium develops, there is a risk that it will be used to deliver material which society frowns upon, such as obscene or indecent data. Computer information systems allow the distribution of this material in the forms of text , picture, and sound.

One major use for computer information systems is transferring files; in fact, that is the whole purpose for services such as file servers. Legal issues arise when these transfers contain copyrighted material for example, either text, pictures, sounds, or computer software which violates copyright law.

A growing threat to computer users is the computer virus. The Computer Virus Industry Association reports that in 1988, nearly 90,000 personal computers were affected by computer viruses.[37] Viruses can be distributed via computer information systems, both consciously and unconsciously. They can be put into a system by someone intending to cause harm, or they can be innocently transferred by a user who has an infected disk.[38]

Privacy is another issue for users and system operators of computer information systems. With society becoming increasingly computerized, people need to be made aware of how secure their stored data and electronic mail really is. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized."[39] Yet, how does this Amendment apply to Cyberspace? Cyberspace is a vague, ethereal place with no readily identifiable boundaries, wh ere a "seizure" may not result in the loss of anything tangible and may not even be noticed.

In all of these cases, questions arise as to who is liable. If SYSOPs are not made aware of the legal issues they may face in running a computer system, they may either fail to reduce or eliminate harm when it is within their power to do so, or they may unnecessarily restrict the services they provide out of fear of liability.

Copyright 1994 - 1995 by P-Law, Inc., and Kenneth M. Perry, Esq. All rights reserved. Reproduction is permitted so long as no charge is made for copies, no copies are placed on any electronic online service or database for which there is a fee other than a flat access charge, there is no alteration and this copyright notice is included.

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