If bandits staked out a U.S. business district and obstructed customers, there would be hell to pay. Experts say something similar happened last week when control of the Internet's vital addressing system was diverted for 48 hours. The fact that it went largely unnoticed underscores the medium's vulnerability. ''The Internet is like the Wild West,'' one consultant told the Financial Times.

The move may have been a show of force by a contractor who stands to lose control under U.S. government proposals to privatize many Internet maintenance functions. This may be the best argument for privatization. Putting this vital commercial conduit in the hands of a broader non-profit group - international, commercial and technical representatives - should improve security and oversight in line with the Internet's enormous importance.

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