National Information Infrastructure:
Myths, Metaphors And Realities


The National Information Infrastructure is expected to provide for "the integration of hardware, software, and skills that will make it easy and affordable to connect people with each other, with computers, and with a vast array of services and information resources" (from Information Infrastructure Executive Order, 1993). It is anticipated to be "a seamless web of communications networks, computers, databases, and consumer electronics that will put vast amounts of information at users' fingertips" (Information Infrastructure Task Force, 1993). This seamless web "of communications networks including computers, televisions, telephones and satellites" is expected to forever alter the way Americans "live, learn, work and communicate with each other both here in the United States and around the world" (Letter from Vice President Al Gore, September 13, 1994). The U.S. administration has indicated its commitment to build the NII to meet the information needs of its citizens. This infrastructure is expected to expand the level of interactivity, enhance communication, and allow easier access to various kinds of services. It is expected to accelerate the transformation of this society to the Information Age, and provide increased accessibility to a vast array of electronic information resources and services.

Overview of the NII Concept

The concept of the National Information Infrastructure is based upon the following fundamental principles.

Encouraging private investment in the NII;

Promoting and protecting competition;

Providing open access to the NII by consumers and service providers;

Preserving and advancing universal service to avoid creating a society of information "haves" and "have nots";

Ensuring flexibility so that the newly-adopted regulatory framework can keep pace with the rapid technological and market changes that pervade the telecommunications and information industries.

The National Information Infrastructure Agenda for Action, the first comprehensive statement of the Administration's visions and goals for the NII initiative, provides an overview of the goals and objectives of NII. According to this document, the implementation of the NII is expected to:

. Promote private sector investment to increase and expand competition in communication and information markets, where that is needed for communication reform, legislation of the markets that have been dominated by monopolies, and revision of tax policies to provide incentive to the private sector for doing R&D on the NII;

. Extend the "universal service" concept to assure that information resources are easyily available to all Americans at affordable prices;

. Promote technological innovation and new applications in both private and public sectors, and continue to fund basic, risky and expensive projects;

. Promote seamless, interactive, user-driven operation of the NII to ensure interoperability and openness of the NII components with effecient, high-capacity, and standardable multi-media services;

. Ensure information security and privacy of the information systems , networks and media of communications for all individuals and organizations, and to ensure network reliability and reduce its vulnerability;

. Improve management of the radio frequency spectrum to ensure that spectrum scarcity does not impede the development of the NII;

. Protect intellectual property rights, and balance that with the public interest in promoting the dissemination of information, and to apply these rights to all forms of information in the electronic environment, and to reexamine and strengthen the copyright laws domestically and internationally;

. Coordinate with other levels of Government and with other nations on the regulatory policy , and on export control policies to remove restrictions and eliminite barriers; and

. Provide access to Government information and improve Government procurement of information.

The NII seeks to enhance national competitiveness and improve quality of life of the general populace. The development of NII is promised to be one of the most important contributions to the nation's economic and social challenges. Regardless of diverse professions, needs and desires, all Americans will, expectedly, be able to access enormous benefits in terms of Government services, commerce, business, health care, and education. Some expected possibilities of NII include greater citizen participation in deliberative democracy, advances in medical treatment and research, creation of jobs, increase in economic growth and productivity, reduced heath care costs, and quick verification of critical information.

Increased availability and accessibility of services and products provided through the NII is expected to dramatically affect the way in which individuals conduct their everyday affairs. To facilitate this process, GILS (Government Information Locator Services) has been set up. As part of the Federal role in the National Information Infrastructure, GILS will identify and describe information resources throughout the Federal Government, and provide assistance in obtaining the information. The public will use GILS directly or through intermediaries, such as the Government Printing Office, the National Technical Information Service, the Federal depository libraries, other public libraries, and private sector information services. Direct users will have access to a GILS Core accessible on the Internet without charge. Intermediate access may include kiosks, "800 numbers," electronic mail, bulletin boards, FAX, and off-line media such as floppy disks, CD-ROM, and printed works.

For example, citizens may be able to learn about federal benefits programs through public kiosks, or may receive their social security payments through direct deposit to their bank accounts. As the U.S. transportation infrastructure becomes more complex, Americans can benefit from the application of the NII to such operations as toll collection, motor vehicle registration, and traffic routing. As the NII becomes more interconnected, citizens and organizations are expected to engage in multimedia communications, as well as sell goods and services electronically, share data resources, and receive Federal benefits. According to the U.S. Administration's projections, NII is expected to add $100 billion to the US economy in 1995 alone, and further to add 500,000 jobs before Dec 1996 by doubling the investment in telecommunications and information services (Jessel, 1994).

Scope of the NII

The NIIAC (National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council) defined its vision to include the following four specifications for the NII.

The NII must be ubiquitous and affordable enabling all individuals to be both consumers and producers of information in all forms. The NII must be capable of adapting to changing social and market needs.

The NII must be driven by its users - both information consumers and producers . It must offer the users convenient access and the initiative to learn and use NII. Further, usability must be provided for any disabled persons.

The private sector must have primary responsibility for the design, deployment, and operation of the NII. However, all the levels of Government will have the roles to play in ensuring the effective development and deployment of the NII.

The NII must be an integral part of the Global Information Infrastructure (GII). In the globalization of markets, resources, and economics, global accessibility and use of information is very critical.

For operationalizing these specifications, the NIIAC defined the scope of the NII in terms of some fundamental principles. These principles have been discussed in the first report of the NIIAC (1995). In this report, NIIAC has delineated a framework which specifies the fundamental principles in five key areas.

Universal Access and Services

Privacy and Security

Intellectual Property

Education for Lifelong Learning, and

Electronic Commerce.

Universal Access and Services Principles: The NIIAC (1995) has proposed a set of universal access and services principles. Over the next decade, the goal is to enable every individual to have access to the NII, with basic level of access and services capabilities and the deployment of an interactive, multimedia infrastructure. By the end of this century, the goal is to have the deployment of the NII access and services capabilities to all community-based institutions serving public, such as schools and libraries. All Americans would be able to act both as consumer as well as producers of information and services on the NII. Disabled would be able to access the NII without much inconvenience or expense. All public information from all levels of Government will be readily accessible to all individuals. Wherever necessary, Government incentives and subsidies will be provided for accomplishing these goals.

Privacy and Security Principles: One of the major concerns of the NII is to ensure "information privacy" of individuals, i.e. their claim to control access or disclosure of information of personal nature. The IITF has suggested a set of general and specific principles that address the issues of privacy, integrity, and quality of the personal information on the NII. These principles can be categorized into four major classes:

General Principles

Principles for Users of Personal Information

Principles for Information Providers

Intellectual Property Principles.

General Principles: These pertain to privacy, integrity and quality of the information accessed or disseminated on the NII. Individual's reasonable expectation of privacy regarding access to and use of his or her personal information should be assured. Personal information should not be improperly altered or destroyed. Personal information should be accurate, timely, complete, and relevant for the purpose for which it is provided and used.

Principles for Users of Personal Information: These pertain to the aspects of acquisition and use, notice, protection, fairness and education.

Acquisition and Use Principle: Users of personal information should recognize and respect the privacy interests that individuals have in the use of personal information. They should assess the impact on privacy of current or planned activities in deciding whether to obtain or use personal information. Further, they should obtain and keep only information that could be reasonably expected to support current or planned activities and use the information only for those or compatible uses.

Notice Principle: Those who collect information from individuals should provide adequate, relevant information about their purpose and the safeguards they have provided to prevent any misuse. Further, they need to elaborate the consequences of not providing the required information so that individuals are aware of their options. Moreover, the individuals' rights of seeking redress need to be explained.

Protection Principle: Users of personal information should take reasonable steps to ensure that unauthorized disclosure or modification doesn't occur. They should use appropriate managerial and technical controls to protect the confidentiality and integrity of personal information.

Fairness Principle: Individuals provide personal information on the assumption that it will be used in accordance with the notice provided by collectors. Therefore, users of personal information should enable individuals to restrict the use of personal information if the intended use is found to be inconsistent with the prior notice provided by collectors.

Education Principle: The full effect of the NII on the use of personal information is not readily apparent to most individuals, and many may not recognize how their lives may be affected by the networks of information. It is the responsibility of information users to educate themselves, their employees, and the public about how personal information is obtained, disseminated, stored, processed, and protected, and how these activities affect the individuals and society at large.

Principles for Information Providers: These cover the three aspects of awareness, redress and security.

Awareness Principle: While information collectors have a responsibility to inform individuals why they want personal information, individuals also have a responsibility to understand the consequences of providing personal information to others. Therefore, individuals should obtain adequate, relevant information about the purpose for which the information shall be used, the safeguards for avoiding its misuse, their rights to withhold the information and any rights to redressal.

Redress Principle: Individuals should be protected from harm caused by the improper disclosure or use of personal information. They should also be protected from harm caused by decisions based on personal information that is not accurate, timely, complete, or relevant for the purpose for which it is used.

Security Principles: NII participants must have confidence that the NII is a trustworthy, reliable system, or they will not use it. The security aspects of NII include integrity, confidentiality, and privacy of the information in the NII. In general, people who use NII want to ensure that their information goes where and when they want it, and not elsewhere.

Intellectual Property Principles: These principles suggest changes to the existing copyright law to provide the necessary protection for copyrighted works and to place appropriate limitations on those rights. They are expected to influence the distribution, publication, first sale, technological protection, copyright management, public performance, fair use and licensing of works of information. Electronic distribution of copyrighted works for reproduction and display or performance needs to be taken into consideration for defining new legislation. Similarly, the first sales doctrine needs to take into consideration duplication without loss of original copy.

Education and Lifelong Learning Principles: The NII can enhance the quality of education provided through educational institutions and libraries by facilitating participation of individuals in electronic communities of learning. Also, by the end of the century, all individuals should be able to conveniently access through NII information and learning resources available in their schools, colleges, universities, libraries, and other communities-centered institutions. Of course, there is a related need for ensuring the high quality and diversity of these resources provided to cater to society's needs at large. The individuals in various communities should be empowered to participate in shaping the evolution of the NII. Most importantly, the learning resources available thru NII should equip individuals of all ages with the required skills to participate in the new information society.

Electronic Commerce Principles: National and international commerce is increasingly dependent on the information highways. The NII, and ultimately the GII, is expected to dramatically enhance the frequency, facility and accuracy of electronic commerce. The competitive environment created by the NII is expected to accelerate the deployment of the NII, and the development of a wide range of products and services for electronic commerce. The process can be encouraged by Government's procurement of goods and services through electronic means and its offering services electronically. All these future expectations are of course dependent upon the developments in ensuring the privacy and security of information.

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