“There’s been some discussion in Europe about the use of what’s called a computer drivers license, where you have a standard set of skills people should learn before they start using computers. At the moment we have drivers licenses for cars, and cars are very dangerous machines. Computers are also quite dangerous in the way that they can make people vulnerable to fraud. In the future we might want to think about whether it’s necessary there be some sort of compulsory education of people before they start using computers.”

Russel Smith, principal criminologist at the Australian Institute of Criminology, floats the idea of requiring a license to cruise the information superhighway


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  • Patrick M

    It is so typical of Europeans to lag behind us. We have drivers who motor and use computers at the same time.

  • David M

    Let’s see, this would only apply to using the Internet?
    Would enforcing the license provision be accomplished by blocking Internet access?
    How would the license be verified (against spoofing?)
    Otherwise, would this require registration with a government agency to own a computer?
    Would failure to register be a misdemeanor or a felony?

    Oh the opportunities for lawyers and legislators to intrude once again into ordinary person’s activities in the name of controlling crime.

    Meanwhile the criminals will quickly figure a way around it, possibly through identity theft. Another feel good measure doomed to fail.

  • JM

    Wow, a little scary if you ask me. Restricting access to information is the first step toward autocratic rule.

  • Richard M

    Mr. Smith needs to study and reflect on the arguments of John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” before making such suggestions. One licenses automobiles because the driver can harm other people, if not himself alone. Smoking is banned in public places because second-hand smoke is dangerous.

    It’s fine for government to warn citizens of the dangers of various practices — smoking, drinking, use of opiates, and the like — but we do not need a super nanny protecting us from ourselves. I, for one, have no objections if my neighbor keeps an alligator in his bathtub, as long as it doesn’t get loose and cause harm to others.

    Licensing people to use computers will not put an end to hacking, phishing, scamming, the availability of child pornography, or other abuses of the Internet. You see, Mr. Smith, it’s not the computer per se, rather, it’s the Internet. The responsibility for cautioning novice Internet surfers belongs first in the home; then the school; and then all places where there is public access to computers. Financial institutions and vendors selling on the Internet also have a part to play in warning computer users of the dangers of providing personal information.

    All this said, I do realize that there is a cost to the society that permits such personal liberty: the public wind up paying for part, in some cases all, of the treatment of the diseases caused by the misuse of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, etc. We also pay for credit card fraud, policing those who produce and distribute child pornography on the Internet, etc.

    It’s a trade off. We have laws (albeit sometimes draconian or unnecessary) to protect us from certain social ills. But I’d rather come down on the side of making available information on the consequences of misuse of substances and priviliges and preserving personal liberty than surrendering that liberty to the sort of public “servants” we are most likely to elect or see appointed to protect us from ourselves.

  • Jonathan

    Clearly, this guy has little to do with his time. Maybe he shoud focus on more productive concers…like fretting over which font Ikea is using.

  • While I don’t agree, the theory does have some merit. But we live in a country where we always think somebody else is going to protect us. Many people don’t think to protect themselves. It’s always somebody else’s job.

    We pay for this through educating people. Problem is there’s just so many times you can tell people to install antivirus software and make sure it’s updated. There will still be plenty of people who don’t do it.

  • dermbuilder

    The trouble with antivirus software is that most of it is poorly designed. It tends to run in the background all the time and on older and less powerful computers it bogs them down horribly, I have seen cases where it reduces the speed of performing tasks and running other software by as much as 90%. Actually antivirus software should only run during those moments when you are doing something that could cause your computer to acquire a virus, such as opening an email attachment, not while doing things like word processing.

  • E Lambert

    Commparing driving along the information highway with driving down the highway has since long been a stock in trade of politicians. As precedent is always important in politics it makes “political sense” (which is not common sense) to apply rules from one area to the other. But even in that case it is worthwhile stopping to think a little:
    a driving license (for cars) is required because you can really badly hurt other car drivers and pedestrians and etc.
    Now, stupidly driving along the information superhighway, you mostly can only hurt yourself (you become a virus vector only for other unprotected “drivers”…). In that case a license is difficult to justify – the correct political simile, where the transmission risk is of similar nature, although this time also possibly life threatning, is the sexual act.
    A driver’s license for sex, anyone?

  • RedRat

    This has got to be one of the nuttiest ideas to come down the pike in a long time!! What exactly would this accomplish? If the so-called “license” was to have any real meaning it would mean that the licensee have the equivalent of a degree in Computer Science or Info Technology! Anything less than that would be absolutely useless. You can expose people to the needs for anti-virus software, tell them about phishing, and the thousands of other ploys to get personal information (they have that all now!) and if they decide not to do it, what happens? Are they given a ticket?? Who is hurt when you misuse your computer, aka to a car? The owner of the computer. If a computer user abuses the internet and inflicts damage on another, they are open to prosecution, either of breaking the law or civil lawsuits.

    Come on, typically the Europeans come up with this idea that closely controlling their citizens seems to be a good idea. I must agree with most bloggers here, this is nothing more than the government restricting access to information, the first step to tyranny!

  • George

    File this suggestion by Russel Smith in the humor column.
    He has to be kidding!

  • Sounds like just another way to license something to raise revenue, not to provide any information that will be used by anyone.

  • curmudgeon2000

    House current is potentially lethal — where’s the call for an
    “electricity license” requirement before plugging something
    into a wall socket? Alcohol is also dangerous; how about a
    “drinking license?” And what about power lawn mowers, chain
    saws… the list goes on.

    I agree that more education would be helpful, in which case
    this Mr. Smith should be working with the Board of Education.
    Creating an absurdly unworkable licensing requirement is
    obviously not the answer when so many much more credible
    threats to life and limb remain unregulated.

    It should be noted that Smith is from Australia, where they
    are well on their way to imposing censorship of the Internet
    on all their citizens.

  • Markus Unread

    They already have a user-stupidity test – it pops up saying that the computer is infected with a virus and that they need to download a patch right away. After the trojan mucks up their machine, they have been automatically protected from fraud!!

  • Beth

    RE: Computers are also quite dangerous in the way that they can make people vulnerable to fraud:
    yea, let’s teach those criminals how to use a computer..

  • People us their computers in so many ways, I fail to see how they could be helped. Further the computer is a most marvelous teaching environment, so we tend to learn where we want to go.

  • Robert J Hebert

    Russel Smith should get his head screwed back on, as his statement was seen galloping down the street with a headless horseman on its back. Computers need to be designed better, network and ISP administrators need to take more responsibility to reduce spamming and viruses, computer software designers need to get their act together to write concise code. Because… everyone will eventually have a computer/internet-phone/worldwide-ID-number emplaced against the skull -bone behind their left ear at birth. Privacy disappeared when the computer was invented: we all need to cope with that fact and act appropriately in this age of instant communications. The system will become ubiquitous and transparent: it will be learned like our mother-language.

  • Robert J Hebert

    Oh Yah! And… banks steal so much from their customers that other criminals only get a tithe, in comparison, with their identity theft.

  • You have to be f-ing kidding me? Hell, why not have a license to drink wine, or have sex, or cross the street for that matter? God, Europeans are so government centric. That is why they have relegated themselves to also rans!