An Interview with Frederick Lane: Challenges in Cyberspace

Sep 12, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

Frederick Lane is an author, attorney, expert witness, and professional speaker on the legal and cultural implications of emerging technology. Lane graduated Boston College Law School and practiced law for five years before launching his own computer consulting business which ultimately led him to his work in computer forensics. For the past 12 years, he has worked as a computer forensics expert, serving on a wide variety of cases, including copyright infringement, stalking, embezzlement, theft of intellectual property, obscenity, and child pornography.

social networking and government surveillance to sexting and cyberporn, attorney, author, and technology expert.

In addition to his professional background, Lane has served on the Burlington School Board in Vermont since October 2001 and served as chairman of the Board for the past two years. He is the author of 5 highly acclaimed books, a number of which deal with technology boundaries. Lane is also the father of two teenage boys.

For more information about Frederick Lane and Cybertraps for the Young, please visit or Cybertraps for the Young will be available on or

  1. First of all, WHOSE responsibility is it to teach say first graders about the dangers of the Internet?

Parents have the primary responsibility for educating first graders (and children of any age, for that matter) about the dangers of the Internet. Alerting children to potential dangers and helping them to avoid them is a fundamental aspect of parenting.

  1. Some individuals would say that PARENTS should be the ones to teach kids about the predators out there on the Internet. Why involve the schools?

I agree that parents have the primary responsibility for teaching kids not only about the dangers of predators, but also about the legal liability they can face for their own actions. However, I believe that it is both practical and appropriate to involve schools in this process for several reasons: 1) When in session, schools interact with children for as many hours during the day as parents (if not more);

The legal lessons needed to avoid various cybertraps are a natural part of existing school lessons on civics, proper school behavior, citizenship, health, etc., all of which benefit both the students and society as a whole; 3) Reinforcing the lessons that hopefully began at home helps to maintain a safe and effective school environment, and reduces potential liability for the schools.

  1. Now, as a former guidance counselor, I also know that kids spend an enormous amount of their free time texting, e-mailing etc. etc. Is there any one person in the school who should be monitoring what kids do in the halls and bathrooms and playgrounds?

No, this is not a job for any one individual. I think that every person in the school should have training on potential cyber issues and on how to properly intervene when a problem arises. For instance, the state of Vermont has instituted an aggressive anti-bullying campaign. A specific part of that program is that it is the responsibility of every school employee to be on the lookout for bullying behavior and to either intervene or report it to the appropriate individual. I think a broad-based, communal approach is much more effective than putting the burden on a single individual or small group.

  1. Some kids are foolish- they post personal information on Facebook, and some post pictures of themselves nude – where does individual responsibility begin and can we just say that the student did a foolish thing?

There is no question in my mind that children need to take responsibility for the things that they do, particularly when they go beyond the foolish (taking or posting a photo of themselves) to the hurtful (redistributing a nude photo of someone else to others). Every parent knows that children will inevitably do stupid things at some point in their childhood (and sometimes into adulthood as well). The goal is to educate children as effectively as possible to cut down on the amount of foolishness.

One issue that we need to look at is whether existing laws should be amended to take into account the fact that some perpetrators are foolish kids and not malicious adults. For instance, a number of children have been prosecuted (or threatened with prosecution) under child pornography laws, which were not designed to cover the typical teen boyfriend/girlfriend situation. A few states, including Vermont, have created exceptions in their child pornography statutes to give prosecutors the discretion to treat such cases as juvenile offenses, which reduces the potential penalties and offers better opportunity for education. Of course, if we can do more education on the front end, that would be better.

  1. What is a typical cybertrap?

A typical cybertrap is a law that can be violated by a child using electronic equipment. I use the phrase “cybertrap” because I believe that many if not most children are unaware of the laws that can govern their online activities and don’t appreciate the potential consequences of what they are doing. Examples include theft of intellectual property (downloading songs and movies), cyberbullying and cyberharassment, computer hacking, sexting, and child pornography.

  1. Now, specifically, what are some cybertraps that say middle schoolers would encounter?’

Middle schoolers are the population that is most at risk for being snared by cybertraps. The combination of hormones, immaturity, poor impulse control, and powerful electronic devices is perilous. This is the age at which kids tend to engage in cyberbullying and cyberharassment, begin experimenting with sexting, and in some cases, start hacking into computer systems.

  1. What does the typical parent need to do to protect their child?

The three key concepts for parents are: Communicate, Supervise, and Verify. Parents should be thinking about the potential legal risks for their child well before they start school, and begin the lessons in cyberethics as soon as their child starts showing interest in electronic devices. As their children mature and get more adept with various devices, parents should continue their communication about risks, consequences, and appropriate boundaries. At the same time, parents should conduct whatever level of surveillance that they feel is appropriate for their child – visual/physical supervision of young children (i.e., devices in common space in the home) – and electronic supervision of older children as needed. And always, verify what kids are saying about their use of electronic devices through examination of the devices themselves, monitoring of the social networks they use, and conversations with the parents of their friends.

  1. Is there any key person in the schools that needs to take the leadership role in this realm?

A number of people in the schools have important leadership roles in educating and protecting children. School boards should make sure that their districts have acceptable use policies and appropriate monitoring tools. District superintendents should make sure that these issues are address in school curricula. And building supervisors and teachers should pay attention to student behavior to make sure that the school environment is safe for everyone.

  1. Often I make very poor attempts at humor, and I end up explaining fun, jokes, mirth, frivolity and the like. How careful should people be when communicating?

Electronic communication lacks the nuance used in face-to-face communication, which makes it easy for misunderstandings to occur. People need to be much more careful about how they phrase things when communicating electronically. If anything, electronic communication imposes a greater need for civility and courtesy than other types of communication.

  1. Tell us about your book and where one can get it?

Cybertraps for the Young is a straightforward and practical guide to the legal trouble that kids can get into through the use and misuse of electronic devices. It is available on or on the publisher’s Web site,

  1. Who should be reading your book?

This book should be read by every parent of minor children, and particularly by those whose children are starting or just about to start school. It is also a useful resource for educators and teachers to help them understand the types of issues about which children should be educated.

  1. What have I neglected to ask?

I think that you have covered the salient points for the book. This should give your readers a good overview and some insights into why I wrote it.

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