The Internet is a two-edged sword. It's a powerful tool to design, manufacture and sell automobiles. It is also a powerful, almost unstoppable, channel to distribute a company's secrets for the whole world to see.
Ultimately, the fast, free communication of the Internet will affect all businesses and organizations. But it already is a major headache for the auto industry, which makes and sells products that are an important part of every American's life.
Our cultural love affair with - and dependence on - the automobile creates a huge interest in things automotive. Everybody craves information about cars and trucks. And any company with a large work force is likely to have disgruntled employees who can wreak havoc by quickly and efficiently disclosing sensitive information and trade secrets.
When Ford Motor Co. went to court last week to shut down the blueovalnews.com Web site, it was trying to protect trademarks and proprietary information. Robert Lane, the site's creator, started out as a fan who owns Ford cars and trucks. But he posted internal Ford documents on his Web site - including documents sent to him by unhappy Ford employees.
Ford demanded not only that the site be removed but also that Lane be forced to reveal his sources, most likely so they could be fired or disciplined. Ford can certainly fire loose-lipped employees. But shutting down a publisher - even an Internet publisher - touches the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects freedom of speech and of the press.
Ford's fight against blueovalnews.com probably will establish some legal parameters for the Internet and other new media. It also could redefine some boundaries for traditional media - such as Automotive News - and the information we provide to you, our readers.
The power to communicate is greater today than the power to suppress. Because the flow of information over the Internet is so quick and widespread and because we are all so dependent on that flow of information, Ford vs. blueovalnews.com has huge implications for all of us.
Edward Lapham's e-mail address is [email protected]