Rights of a Sovereign Nation or Invasion of an Open Internet?

The headlines are no surprise to those in the Internet business. “Police in Central China have shut down a hacker training operation that openly recruited thousands of members Global Cyber Security and Protection from Hackersonline…” (AP) We’ve know China, Russia, and several of the former Soviet block countries are the source of sophisticated hacking, and those activities have at least been tolerated, if not directly supported, but the host governments.

The recent dispute between Google and China’s government brings another question into the breach – does a national government have the right to censor or control the flow of information in or out of the country? While China may be in the news, citizen journalists in Tehran have been severely punished for attempting to Tweet, email, blog, or transmit cell phone images outside of the country. Under the umbrella of national security do countries like Iran have the right to control that information, or develop teams of professional hackers to go out and look into the accounts of residents and citizens?

Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA): To amend title 18, United States Code, to make clear a telecommunications carrier’s duty to cooperate in the interception of communications for Law Enforcement purposes, and for other purposes.

DCSNet, an abbreviation for Digital Collection System Network, is the FBI‘s point-and-click surveillance system that can perform instant wiretaps on almost any communications device in the US (Wikipedia)

I think we can all agree that any state which sponsors cyber attacks on another nation, either through direct objectives, or by turning a “blind eye” to the activities of criminal groups or organizations is a bad thing, which the entire global-connected world should fight. There is no justification for state-sponsored or state-tolerated denial of service, disruption or access to personal and private data, nor online theft.

The Rights of a Sovereign Nation

As Americans, we can get very sanctimonious in our approach to human rights, national ethics, or national morals. We believe we are always right, based on our religious or cultural beliefs, and other nations and cultures should learn from us and change their errant ways to be more like Americans. This means it is probably OK for the national Security Agency, or other three-lettered government agencies to tap, monitor, or perform other forms of espionage – as long as it is done under the context of national security, or even better if you can throw the word “anti-0terrorism” in the conversation.

Thus activities such as DCSNet, or laws such as CALEA, do not bother us too much. However when China tries to look into the systems using a similar premise of national security, the world has an uproar of indignity, not understanding how those people can possibly violate the privacy of email and other systems.

So the question is – “does a nation have the right to set its own laws, cyber-policies, and regulations regarding the Internet and other information systems?”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has strong opinions on the topic. As a long time advocate (since 1990) for protecting the civil liberties of Internet users, both through protecting the rights of users and educating law enforcement agencies, the EFF includes the following points in its stated mission:

  • Develop among policy-makers a better understanding of the issues underlying free and open telecommunications, and support the creation of legal and structural approaches which will ease the assimilation of these new technologies by society.
  • Raise public awareness about civil liberties issues arising from the rapid advancement in the area of new computer-based communications media.
  • Support litigation in the public interest to preserve, protect, and extend First Amendment rights within the realm of computing and telecommunications technology.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

(1st Amendment to the US Constitution)

Law enforcement and national security agencies of countries around the world would object to the American equivalent of the First Amendment, citing the current world situation, or the sovereign rights of a nation allow it to write, establish, modify, interpret, or change such laws as needed to meet an existing or desired environment.

With global connections to a global community governments are struggling to understand how to control or manage information flows within the country. Twenty years ago it was easy for a government to determine exactly what materials would be used in the education of an 8 year old primary school student. Today, a student in Vietnam, Mongolia, or New Jersey basically have the same access to educational materials as any other student in the world, as well as news, intercommunications, and citizen journalism.

And we must also acknowledge the inherent use of deception by governments and other lobbyist organizations. In the world of governments, what you see is not necessarily what you get. The media is used as a mouthpiece of government policy (when it can be controlled), and without a strong governmental “noise filter” and open citizen journalist community you may not get the real story – only the story a government or organization wants you to receive. They believe it is their right as a sovereign nation’s government of deliver you the news they believe you need to know, or they want you to know.

Some Guidelines for Responsible Cyber-Government

There are priorities. While we all understand national intelligence agencies will always do what they do best – access information they believe will give their respective nation some level of political, economic, or military advantage, the priority should be to protect citizens (including the context of global citizens) from malicious attacks on their personal data and ability to do business and communicate via the Internet.

Hacker schools, such as the China-based Black Hawk Safety Net, cannot be tolerated by a reasonable global community. If a government supports the activities network-enabled criminal activities, then that government should be identified and the world given the means to protect themselves from that risk. The US Government has taken some openly advertised steps in this direction by authorizing the US Air Force to establish the USAF Cyber Command.

The new Air Force Cyber Command “will train and equip forces to conduct sustained global operations in and through cyberspace, fully integrated with air and space operations,” said Major General Charles Ickes.

Of course that capability can both defend – and attack as needed to meet military and national objectives.

Leaving users once again at the mercy of governments to both act responsibly, and in the interest of a global community. Sure, we have our work cut out for us. Like most individual users and people depending on the Internet for our livelihoods and futures, the burden is ultimately on us to protect ourselves from intrusion, theft, and denial of service.

Perspectives on War and Conflict – Which Side is Right?

As children of the 50s and 60s, growing up in the US, we had the constant fear of nuclear annihilation riding on our backs. The “Red Threat” resulted in the construction of nuclear fallout shelters, attack drills, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the “Domino Theory” warning of the advance of communism. Every American child was taught to fear, and hate, those who lived in foreign countries considered hostile to the US because of their ideologies and forms of government.

During my first visit to China in the early 1990s, I was genuinely afraid I’d be arrested at immigration due to my past US military experience. Even though I was in my late 30s, the fear of China was so deeply embedded into my psyche that I could not shake the impending feeling of doom as my airplane touched down at the Beijing airport. Even while deplaning I could not help but notice nearly EVERYONE in the airport was wearing some kind of uniform, and they were all looking at me as a spy or person who had entered their country to do them harm.

At immigration the inspector looked at my passport, and said “welcome to the People’s Republic of China.” And that was it.

Conflict of war and perspectiveExiting the airport also meant exiting the community of uniforms, and I entered a world that fascinated me then, given the warmth and openness of the people in Beijing, and continues to fascinate me today. Occasionally a Chinese person engaged me in a debate about the differences of democracy vs. communism, but in the post Tianamen period most Chinese were concentrating on making money, working hard, and getting on with their lives.

Ditto for Mongolia. While I have to admit it was a bit uncomfortable for me to see HIND helicopters flying around, and soldiers walking around with AK-47s, I started to warm up to the idea they were defending their country, their way of life, and trying to keep enemies away from their borders. Kind of like what Americans do within our country.

In Hanoi, a name that still brings a bit of anxiety to many Americans of my generation, walking through the city and museums produced concerns that I might not be well liked, as an American, in a country we fought in a horrible conflict through much of my youth. I had the feeling everybody looking at me was wondering if I flew B52s, or had wounded or killed one of their family.

In fact, many of them do have that question. But much like other humans around the world, life is for the living, and the living get on with their lives. In fact, Hanoi is one of the friendliest cities I have been in, and continues to bring pleasant surprises every time I venture out of the hotel into the community.

The 1000 Pound Reminder

I have started rationalizing my emotions towards war. As a professional soldier I know the meaning of conflict, have been in conflict, and don’t like it very much. The enemy has no face, no soul, no name, no family, and is a slab of meat that needs to be captured or killed. Soldiers, regardless of the soft news that surrounds winning the hearts and minds, are trained to take the lives of their enemies either while advancing on their position, or defending their own position. Pretty simple.

Walking through Hanoi there are still signs of conflict. A large crater that formed when 1000 pound bombs were dropped into neighborhoods. The “Hanoi Hilton” of John McCain fame. The “Hanoi Jane” memorial anti-aircraft gun. All memories of a time many years ago when people in Hanoi were killing or being killed.

As an American I grew up hating the Vietnamese for torturing US airmen. I grew up hating Muslims for the terrible things they did to Jews. I hated Cubans for just about everything. All a result of the media telling me I should hate them. A media that continue s to drive the same message for other conflicts and cultures – broadcast by people with a lot of experience in war, such as Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, and Rush Limbaugh. They do have a lot of military experience to draw their conclusions from, right?

Now, after many years of walking through countries we have at some point in our generation been at war (Japan, Korea, China, Russia, Mongolia, Viet Nam, Palestine, Israel, Germany, etc., etc., etc…), my perspective is changing. I wonder how I, as an American, would react if the war was fought, for example, in Long Beach (California). If bombers from Manitoba were dropping 1000 pound bombs on Belmont Shore, what would my reaction be?

If I caught a Manitoban flyer who had his plane shot down while dropping bombs on my neighborhood, what would I do to him?

The answer is pretty easy. I would rip him limb from limb and feed the parts to coyotes – while I watched and laughed.

When I think of the indignities a young school girl encounters while passing from Ramallah into East Jerusalem, what can I expect her to think or feel as she passes Jewish people or Israelis each day? What if I was her father? How would I react to bulldozers wiping out my neighborhood to accommodate settlement expansions? If foreigners were occupying my homeland, would I welcome them with open arms, or find a way to fight?

How do you win the hearts and minds when a bomber accidently drops its payload on a civilian community and calls it “collateral damage?” At the end of the day, it really makes no difference if it is a mistake or not – people die.

It is all about your perspective. As history has shown, the winner ultimately writes the history. It is both enlightening, and confusing to look at the perspectives of each side. We can now look at the wars of the Romans, Mongols, British Empire, and Zulus with a detached, neutral, and academic view. Recent wars are still being written, and may not be understood for another 500 years or so. And when they are written, there is not going to be a right or wrong, only a winner and body count of the dead.

My perspective is now that war is not a good thing for the living. And as Clausewitz eloquently said, “war results when diplomats are incompetent or screw up.” Or something like that. And 16 year old children implement their failed policy with guns or explosives strapped to their belts.

All about perspective, and understanding there are two distinct sides to every argument or conflict.

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