Internet Legislation in the Era of Digital Warfare

Ever since the inception of CYBERCOM (a newly created branch of the US Department of Defense that deals with cyber strategy, security and networking for the military), there has been a noticeably heightened sense of awareness here in the US due to the increased attention given to a number of cyber attacks sustained by the government and civilian networks over the past two years.  These attacks range from hacktivism (like the DDoS attacks on Paypal),  to espionage (like the Chinese cyber attacks),  and even fraud (like the recent bitcoin scams).  However serious all these attacks may seem, the most serious of them cross into the realm of cyber terrorism (examples include the successful disabling of government networks, and multi city blackouts caused by hacking).

If the increased number of proposed legislative bills are any indication, the US government is trying to be proactive in answering a very serious question – how can it protect itself and the nation against cyber attacks, especially attacks targeting critical infrastructure. While some proposals (like the Cyber Security Enhancement Act of 2010) suggest the improvement of cyber security technical standards, other proposals are more controversial. Take for instance, the proposed amendment to the Homeland Security Act, which would give the president almost limitless power to restrict internet access to protect national interests in the from of a figurative ‘internet kill switch’.  And even though the idea of using regulatory power to restrict communication or access is not new in the United States (see the Communications Act of 1934), the fact that it could now be applied to the open landscape of the internet has inspired many arguments for and against proposals to apply regulations on internet use. With all this being said, it makes me wonder – do people fear the government abusing this power more than they fear the outcome of an actual attack or vice versa? Could that fear, whatever it’s origin, result in a far less open version of the internet as American’s now know it?

Whatever the case, government officials are closer than ever on coming to a consensus on these issues.  The only thing Americans can hope for is that the measures being put in place today help mitigate the fallout of possible attacks in the future, and create a more capable cyber security defense for American networks and infrastructure.

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