Technically, the Internet is ‘a swiss cheese at all levels’, and its chances of surviving in its present form are ‘no more than 50:50’: these were some of the worrying conclusions of a recent conference, organized by the University of Oxford, on the future of the Internet.

The conference, Can the Internet Survive? Internet Security, Technology and Governance: Problems and Solutions, was convened by the Oxford Internet Institute, the ESRC’s e-Society project, London Business School, and Templeton College, Oxford. Participants agreed that, with the massive increase in Internet use over the past ten years, technical problems were now much harder to solve and, while individuals and companies can create their own fire walls, system-wide the net is highly vulnerable. Cyber-crime is increasing and the possibility of state-sponsored e-terrorism is becoming ever more likely.

Despite clear evidence of potential threats to children – a recent study has shown that nearly half have given out personal information over the web, and 6 out of 10 UK children who regularly use the Internet have been exposed to pornography – there is deep resistance to anything that might be perceived as censorship.

Conference participants themselves were sharply divided between those who called for tighter controls, or regulation, and those who argued that the risks of the net had to be seen in the context of the enormous opportunities that it opened up. As Professor William Dutton, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, noted: “Like other technologies, the Internet is a double-edged sword.”

Continuing advances in technology, including optical fibres, wireless, and networking, have the potential to transform the Internet beyond recognition, but it is difficult to see where it will go while such fundamental questions as security and governance remain unanswered.

“We have been reminded of what we might lose,” commented Professor Dutton. Michael Earl, Dean of Templeton College, noted that: “The Internet’s challenges derive from its three unique characteristics – its explosive growth, its borderlessness and its ownerlessness.” These give rise to problems but we must never forget that they have their positive side.

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Notes for Editors

The Oxford Internet Institute is a department at the University of Oxford focused on conducting multi-disciplinary research on the societal implications of the Internet.

Templeton College is the University of Oxford’s graduate college specialising in management studies. It is an international community, dedicated to management learning and rooted in research, that brings together academics and researchers, graduate students and executives. The College pursues an active programme of research focusing on the key issues of organisational performance, change and leadership. The College’s executive programmes – part of Oxford Executive Educatio – blend practical relevance with the academic rigour for which Oxford is renowned, drawing on the University’s expertise to place management issues firmly in the broader global context.

The e-Society Programme is an ESRC-supported programme of research on the social aspects of new information and communication technologies.