Silicon Insider: Hijacked on the Information Superhighway

Viruses Could Cripple Crucial Computer Systems

Where are the cops? Where are the class-action lawyers? Where are the vigilantes? Where is the ACLU? If three people poison themselves because a warning label is missing from a bottle of cleaning fluid, you can guarantee that a lawsuit in the name of endless John Does will be filed within hours in 40 jurisdictions around the country. But if three people die in emergency rooms because the doctors can't call up toxicology reports on their virus-riven handhelds, then the perpetrators get away scot-free.

If I'm driving down the highway and somebody jumps in my car and wrestles away the steering wheel to drive me someplace I don't want to go, that's carjacking -- a felony. If somebody hangs around the schoolyard and shows my kids dirty pictures or offers them cigarettes, they get arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. If they break into my house while I'm writing this column and destroy my typewriter and harass me and prevent me from completing my work before deadline, they are in violation of the First Amendment -- a federal crime. And if they intentionally interfere with my ability to run my business, send me false invoices and orders, destroy my mail, try to con me, and interrupt my operations, they are liable to be charged with a whole raft of violations, including RICO, restraint of trade, U.S. mail regulations, etc., etc.

But if, by comparison, I'm driving down the information highway, my car can be hijacked with impunity. In my virtual office, I can be subject to every con man on earth, my mail rifled through or destroyed, and my business either restrained or subverted. And my kids, on the way to virtual school, virtual movie theater or virtual mall, can be introduced to the wonders of bestiality, steroids and international grifters -- without consequences to the criminals.

The penumbra of privacy now extends in American life everywhere from the womb to the bedroom. Why isn't my personal computer, now such an integral part of my professional and personal life, tucked within that emanation. Why are my genitals protected, but my imagination is not?

So why is this happening? Why is the SEC more worried about mergers between dinosaurs than this terrifying challenge to free trade and national productivity? And why aren't attorneys going after these scumbags rather than some phony obesity claim against McDonald's? And most of all, why aren't we screaming louder for help?

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michael S. Malone, once called “the Boswell of Silicon Valley,” most recently was editor at large of Forbes ASAP magazine. He has covered Silicon Valley and high-tech for more than 20 years, beginning with the San Jose Mercury-News as the nation's first daily high-tech reporter. His articles and editorials have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and Fortune, and for two years he was a columnist for The New York Times. He has hosted two national PBS shows: "Malone," a half-hour interview program that ran for nine years, and in 2001, a 16-part interview series called "Betting It All: The Entrepreneurs." Malone is best known as the author of a dozen books. His latest book, a collection of his best newspaper and magazine writings, is called "The Valley of Heart's Delight."

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