COMMENTARY: Cyberwar

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We've often talked here about how one of the major problems with any new technology is that the law has a difficult time keeping up with changes. We saw this with the development of the printing press, radio and television, and the Internet. More from Dr. Larry Burris, MTSU Professor of Journalism:



But now a number of troubling issues and technologies are converging that are, at present, proving to be intractable. The technologies are various forms of social media and computer infrastructure. The major issues are the nature of cyberwarfare and interference by outsiders in the political process, namely elections.

Various proposals are now floating through Congress that would regulate political advertising on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. Or, if not directly regulate, make it more transparent, much like is currently done in print and broadcast media.

At the national policy and national security levels, there are various discussions going on about just what constitutes cyberwarfare. And before you think cyberwarfare applies only to satellites and military computer systems, ask yourself this question: does election interference by a foreign power via social media constitute an act of war?

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But before you answer this question, remember that history shows that many countries, including the United States, have used existing media to try to influence elections.

In fact, in the United States, both political parties have used dirty tricks to influence elections. No, let me rephrase that: both political parties have used lies and distortions to influence elections.

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But the question still remains, just what constitutes an act of cyberwar? Obviously using computer technology to disrupt and destroy critical national structures and functions could be considered an act of war, and could require a retaliatory response.

As the world's leading democracy we need to be careful of knee-jerk reactions, and be careful to balance the very real needs of national security with the very real concerns about protecting civil liberties.

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