Beware the killer mouse

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 April, 2006, 12:00am

The internet continues to thrill, baffle and worry me, more than a decade after I was introduced to it. Someone, somewhere, is always coming up with an innovative new way to make use of it - mostly for profit, but occasionally just to scare the wits out of me, or so it seems.

Take the guy who thought it would be cool to have live satellite images of everything on Earth and make them available online. What a brilliant idea for those checking out the weather in a travel destination or children researching school projects - until you realise where that one is heading.

I can hardly wait for the day when I get a phone call at 1am from my mother in Australia, telling me she has just been checking out my front door and noticed that I was having trouble walking in a straight line and tried six times to get the key in the lock and, really, I should grow up and learn to drink a bit less.

Webcams are also wonderful gizmos and - hooked up to the appropriate website - offer video communications for free anywhere in the world. You get a rather different view of them, though, when you have walked past one, naked, on the way from a soothing bath - without realising your son left the thing running when he went to school. Worse, the panicked, full-frontal, leap at the machine - upon noticing the red 'on' light - may well have dealt a severe shock to whichever of his friends had the misfortune to be watching over the internet.

It is with such images in mind that I swiftly move on to Texan John Lockwood, who surely deserves the 'Internet Scaremonger of the Year' award for his creation - The site has been running for more than a year, but the moral ripples it has caused continue to buffet society far and wide.

I can easily guess where Mr Lockwood got the idea for his site: sitting at home on his ranch, his trusty hunting rifle on his lap and a computer mouse in his hand, he figured it was high time hunting went hi-tech.

Before long, he had positioned a rifle in a homemade metal cradle, attached to a motor, atop a butcher's block. He attached one end of a wire to the trigger and the other end to a computer, so that the weapon would fire at the click of a mouse.

He rigged up video cameras and linked them to his internet website: customers could shoot animals of their choice, for a fee.

From thousands of kilometres away, an internet user with blood sports surging in his or her veins could potentially line up a buffalo in the cross hairs, right-click the computer mouse and send the majestic beast to a live, online death.

Apart from Mr Lockwood, some overseas soldiers and people unable to get into the great outdoors to gun down wild woodland creatures, not too many people are happy about the idea. Hunters have condemned it as unsportsmanlike, and academics worry about the ethics of people anonymously firing guns at real targets as if they were playing computer games. Politicians fear criminals could make use of it.

The US state of Kentucky this week became the 10th American legislature to ban internet hunting, while Congress is considering the Computer-Assisted Remote Hunting Act, a law that would jail for up to five years anyone involved in the pastime.

Texas is one of the states that has banned the activity, so Mr Lockwood's business has had to adapt to targets that are not alive, such as T-shirts carrying an image of Osama bin Laden. If the federal law gets passed, even that will be consigned to history.

That does nothing for the fact that the idea is already out there, to be adopted and adapted. The day is undoubtedly nigh when, at 1am, as I am trying for the sixth time to get the key in the lock of my front door, I hear a sharp click. Then, to the strains of my mother's voice telling me that I am a very naughty boy, a mechanical hand firmly spanks my bottom.

Peter Kammerer is the Post's foreign editor