Legal Aspects of Technology Management
The use of information technology as the primary arena in which the new global economy conducts business raises many important questions. One of the most challenging of these issues is the legal aspects of this new commerce system. This paper will take a look at the legal aspects of internet technology management in the 21st century global economy. The reader will glean a better understanding of the application of current statutes to this new environment. By reviewing several areas in which these legal questions are raised, this paper will demonstrate the new fluidity of the environment in which law and commerce interact.
Keywords: ARPANET; Copyright; Delphi; Digital Signature; Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act; Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); Intellectual Property; Internet Service Provider (ISP)
While attending a conference, Stephen Hofmyer, Chief Technology Officer of a network security firm in California, decided to try an experiment. He went into a secluded area of the conference center, turned on his laptop and, using the center's local area computer network, launched a program designed to scan the contents of other computers on the network. In moments, he had access to countless computers and the e-mail messages they contained. The experiment was not whether or not his program would work. Rather, it was to see who had not safeguarded their own computers — the conference he was attending was PC Forum, one of the biggest information technology events of the year, whose participants were some of the most renowned experts on computer technology (Anecdotage.com, 2009).
The fact that so many experts had left their own computers susceptible to intrusions was likely not a reflection of their absent-mindedness regarding their own security. Rather, it paints an illustration of the degree to which computer technology and the Internet is constantly evolving. Such technology has developed to such a level that it is not just a vehicle for the global economy of the 21st century — it is the vehicle.
The use of information technology as the primary arena in which the new global economy conducts business raises many important questions. Among the most challenging of these issues are the legal aspects of this new commerce system. After all, despite the fact that most free markets seek to minimize government regulation, it remains that there have long been statutory guidelines by which business, whether local, national or international, has been conducted. In a global economy dominated by information technology, those guidelines must be re-approached and, where relevant, applied to the 21st century mode of business.
This paper will take a look at the legal aspects of technology management in the 21st century global economy. The reader will glean a better understanding of the application of current statutes to this new environment. By reviewing a number of key areas in which these legal questions are raised, this paper will demonstrate the new fluidity of the environment in which law and commerce interact.
An Evolution Without Legal Boundaries
Like many other innovations, the Internet began, in the 1960s) as a military application, ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), forging a global network of computers in order to share military and scientific information more quickly and securely than telephones or conventional mail systems (Shannon, 2009).
By the late 1960s, it became clear that ARPANET had non-military applications as well. A consortium of major scientific and academic institutions sought to link together on-campus computers in order to share information and data. The system crashed before the user was able to complete login, but it still provided inspiration for similar endeavors for more than two decades, linking university information and resources both on campus and around the world. By the late 1980s, the system was becoming more and more user-friendly, accelerated by the introduction of personal computers in the 1970s. It was still limited, however, by the fact that, as a government-funded program, it was not allowed to be used for non-educational or non-research purposes.
This restriction ended in the early 1990s. The 1991 High Performance Computing (HPC) Act, cosponsored by Senator Al Gore, who, according to Cerf (1995), early on saw that "information superhighways limned the potential of a computing and communications infrastructure that would permeate and stimulate the government, business, and private sectors of the U.S. economy." HPC stimulated the development of very high speed network technology. When an increasing number of similar but privately developed commercial networks began to surface. The first of these was Delphi, which offered users access to the growing network without going through the "backbone" established by the federal government's programs. When the National Science Foundation ceased its funding of the backbone, its disappearance caused negligible impact on the web, since universities were funding their own systems and commercial enterprises continued to join (Howe, 2009).
The Internet is a global resource, not just for academic research and information exchanges. It is used to support virtually every aspect of life in the 21st century, from home entertainment and games to shopping to stock exchanges and satellite technology. Its uses and applications continue to develop every year. However, the Internet was developed by the government for the purpose of information exchanges. Commercial networks thereto were allowed to develop without government intervention during its early evolution. When its growth occurred at an explosive rate during the 1990s and early 2000s, those seeking to install legal user protections for the myriad of uses it offers were left to play catch-up.
This point is important — along with the resources and data that users may obtain for legitimate purposes, such as shopping, academic research or systems management, there are many questionable and/or illegal activities being conducted on the Internet. Such behavior thrives on the world wide web, due to the aforementioned reason that the Internet is so vast and yet subject to so few regulatory or legal parameters.
There are a number of areas of legal issues in this evolving area of information technology that have received particular attention in recent years. Among the most prominent are the management and distribution of sensitive medical data, copyright infringement and piracy, and black market activity.
Health Care Management
Norman Rockwell's classic 1958 print, The Doctor's Office, creates a wholesome image of health care and the sacred relationship between a doctor and his young patient. Indeed, Rockwell was speaking to the degree of trust and familiarity people have with those who administer their health care. Half a century later, this ideal still holds true for most people, although a number of elements have interceded between the doctor and the patient, creating a complexity that Rockwell could never have envisioned.
Indeed, health care has evolved into an intricate system including insurance, medical malpractice and pharmaceutical companies. In addition to the sacred doctor-patient relationship, there now exists a hospital-patient relationship as well as a hospital-doctor relationship, casting even more confusion into the intricacies of health care. Even the doctor's office itself is a shadow of its early 20th century incarnation, with ever-changing coding systems and medical groups consisting of large numbers of doctors. While these changes have been implemented to make it easier for doctors to manage the large number of people seeking health care, they have also opened the door for issues within the system.
One of the most challenging of these issues is the management of patient information. Like so many other industries, the health care industry has utilized computer systems to manage and update the files of patients. As is the case with an ever-changing environment involving computer software, the system is in a constant state of flux as new developments and upgrades are introduced.
Since the later 20th century, traditional paper-based patient records have become increasingly computerized. Such formats serve a number of important purposes. First, physical storage space has been dramatically improved. Additionally, the computerization of patient records improves and simplifies the process of record-keeping among doctors, nurses and other practitioners. In this light, computerization makes life easier for health care professionals.
Computerized patient records also have value for those outside the doctor-patient relationship. Government officials, seeking to understand health care trends and track diseases, have access to greater amounts of information at a faster pace than they would have with paper records. Furthermore, insurance companies may more expeditiously process claims using digital management technologies. Even billing processes are improved as a result of this management trend.
Who has Access?...
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