Wednesday, June 16, 2004

A Blog Virgin

As a cyberspace lawyer and someone who spends most of her waking hours online, I have been surprisingly resistant to the newer technologies.

I have refused to use instant messaging (under its current or previous carnations of ICQ) because whenever I logged on people would message me. I never had any peace. I also hate to type. (And am extraodinarily bad at it. I have to look at the keyboard whenever I type and PMs in IRC end up with text I wanted to post in the main IRC channel. But when you are always looking down, you miss things on the screens :-()

Like most of the kids these days, I want to do my thing online and not be bothered by SPAM, pop-ups, spyware or ads that take forever to load. All of these get in the way of what I am doing. They waste my time and require me to click, close, delete or ignore in order ot get back to whatever I was doing.

But this is different. A Blog lets us say our peace and only bother others who want to be bothered by us. We can share our opinions (worthy or not) and help, find and share thoughts with, others online.

So, while I still refuse to use IMs, I am now beginning my Blog. :-)

I am a lawyer specializing in Internet privacy and security law. I was one of the first cyberlawyers in the United States, and became on by accident. In the early days of the Web, I began creating discussion boards on AOL to help people with legal questions get free answers. I had more than a hundred lawyer donating their time to provide legal information online. One thing ledt to another and we created CourtTV's Legal Helpine, answering questions there too.

In some ways these discussion boards were the early blogs. Those of us with administrative status could post whatever we wanted and even remove others' posts if we wanted to. (These were the early days online when editing rights gave you the ultimate power.)

People would ask me for answers to "cyberlaw" questions. I explained that cyberlaw didn't exist. Frankly it became easier to read the one case in the United States that was an early cyberlaw issue than to continue to protest. I read the case (Epson, in California, on e-mail privacy) and became an instant expert in cyberlaw. Over the years it got harder. But judges and legal theorists still looked to the online lawyers like me for the answers. In those days being online and a lawyer made you a cyberlawyer.

So, I became a cyberlawyer. I started focusing on privacy, suveillance and security issues online. I wrote for the law journals, became a regular on network news programs and in the print media and spoke at conferences around the world. I now write the Information Week column called The Privacy Lawyer, do consulting and public speaking. My legal practice has been limited to special clients on policy development.

Not too long after that fateful CNN appearance I became worried that the people who were talking about kids online safety were focusing only on porn and forgetting the privacy, predators and security issues. When CNN called me and asked me to appear on camera and talk about the Communications Decency Act which had been enacted to censor content online, I explained it was unconsitutional. (The U.S. Supreme Court validated that opinion when they threw out most of the CDA a few months later.)

Parents called, faxed and e-mailed me asking how they could protect their children online if the laws couldn't be enacted to censeor content online. So, as a public service we self-published my first book - The Parent's Guide to the Internet. It quickly became the leading book in its space and the money I made was donated to a foundation we had set up to help give children in wheelchairs Internet access.

A year and a-half later, I took over running Cyberangels. It had been formed a couple years earlier by the Guardian Angels and had gotten into trouble with the FBI among others for mishandling certain matters.
The Guardian Angel who had been paid ot run it created a competing group and shutdown the website. The program had no remaining volunteers, no materials and no website.

Following my seeing a child being raped online, I agreed to recreate the program and run it myself. But I hadn't taken over the rights to the name. When the inevitable problems arose between Guardian Angels and Cyberangels volunteers and management, we left en masse and created It remains the world's largest online safety and help group, with thousands of unpaid volunteers throughout the world. We help people who need help online. handles cyberstalking and harassment cases, child exploitation and child pornography issues, scams and frauds and malicious code attacks. We, through our, and teach kids and teens how to be safe, private, responsible and secure online.

I wrote a second book for parents on online safety called The Parents' Guide to Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace which has been adapted for the UK, Singapore and for South America, as well as the United States. My publisher was McGraw-Hill, worldwide.

That said, I'll share my thoughts with others and hope that you share yours with me.

Parry Aftab

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Parry Aftab is interested in hearing ideas and questions about digital safety, privacy and cybersense. Please do not advertise or promote services or products or include a link, video or image in your comment.

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