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Recent Online Photos Underscore Difficulties with Control
AP Internet Writer

John Palfrey, a professor of Internet law at Harvard University, said the onus now is on individuals to "be more accountable in terms of what they do on the Internet, just as they are in everyday life. Some sense that the Internet is a lawless zone, and that's not a good thing."

But on balance, they say, the benefits of data flow outweigh any harm.

Companies, publicists and others have sometimes tried to stuff information back into the bottle, often fruitlessly. Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, suspects that many of them use the courts to send a message to other would-be distributors.

"It serves more as a deterrence than as a remedy," Jones said. "It's preposterous to think that once information leaks onto the Internet, you could in fact go out and collect it all and remove it."

There are, of course, exceptions. Late last year, the government shut down a Web site containing millions of pages of documents seized in Iraq after questions were raised about whether it provided too much information about making atomic bombs.

"No one thought to copy and repost the entire database," Aftergood said, adding that individuals have succeeded in reassembling only "isolated documents."

But for the most part, a better approach is to keep the information from disseminating in the first place.

Many secret government documents remain classified despite occasional leaks. Companies successfully guard most of their software code, secret soft-drink recipes and other intellectual property. Apple Inc. Chief Executive Steve Jobs made a splash last week with details on a sleek new iPod-cell phone combination, even though the iPhone had been rumored for months.

And on Monday, Iraqi authorities showed reporters official, soundless video of two hangings - one severing the head of Saddam's half-brother - but refused to otherwise release the video for public broadcast.

People determined enough will often find ways to break controls, however.

A Norwegian teen became a hero to hackers when he posted software to crack the encryption used on most DVD movies to prevent illegal copying. And software to prevent the unauthorized copying or forwarding of company data can be easily defeated with a digital camera.

As Cicarelli and her boyfriend may have learned, there's only one surefire way to keep paparazzi video and information on them from circulating online: Don't make out in public.

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