Cyber-Defense Can Be Threat against Liberties

As the necessity to protect the United States from foreign cyber-attacks increases, citizens must be cautious of how the government approaches the matter.

Nations are increasingly turning to cyber-warfare as a method to sabotage another nation’s civil, economic, and military infrastructure.  Last week, for example, The New York Times  examined a report detailing a hacking unit based in Shanghai. The unit succeeded in forcing access into some of the largest American firms’ confidential records.  It also hacked into the networks of firms who owned extensive documentation of American infrastructure, including pipelines and power grids.

Our society’s relatively recent dependency on computers creates a new and serious vulnerability for the nation, and the need to take action is obvious. President Obama, in his State of the Union address, stressed the dangers cyber-warfare posed and the urgent need to take action to stop it. In the address, he talked of signing an “executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security…”

But as critical as it is to take decisive action against crippling cyberattacks, the autonomy the government will take upon itself to combat this threat can’t be unlimited or totally secretive. Before we give the government a green light to begin keeping tabs on us electronically, we must ask ourselves if we willing to forfeit our rights to privacy in the name of cybersecurity.

A vauge statement such as the one President Obama made over a month ago cannot be acceptable when it comes to the legal monitoring of private electonic activities and information. Such ambiguity allows the government to get away with intrusive actions in the name of cyber defense. Without a very specific plan that is made public, the risk is very high that a cyber-attack task force will abuse its power and spy on the private lives of Americans.

Limited sharing of  information between private citizens, their businesses, and the government is a good idea. It would provide the ability to improve defense when a coordinated attack does come our way. But such action must be selective. There must be competent oversight to hold the government to these limitations and ensure no loopholes exist where our privacy and personal information is freely examined by the government.

President Obama has correctly identified the prevalent threat of cyber hackers.  But we must also acknowledge that in sharing our information, we must surrender our privacy rights. The question is how much.

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