Challenges Along the Digital Frontier with National Security Ramifications

Let’s face it: we love technology. The instant delivery of information to our fingertips is a powerful addiction that has become the fuel for rapid expansion in both the private and public sectors. But as the Internet continues to surge exponentially both in size and in its integration with our daily affairs, it raises a host of novel and confounding issues relating to privacy and security.

Three areas in particular deserve closer attention:

1. Public/private sector information sharing – Should there be a revolving door between Internet technology companies and law enforcement officials?

An unofficial report recently exposed the clandestine partnership between Google and NSA, ostensibly a collaborative effort to develop better strategies for cybersecurity in the wake of Chinese attacks on Google’s network. Additionally, Google has publicly admitted that it readily cooperates with law enforcement officials in criminal investigations pertaining to end users. Constitutional issues aside (and there are enough to fill an entire blog in itself), it is inevitable that this sort of public-private cooperation will grow in importance as a key source of national security intelligence. The increasing prominence of a shrinking number of large, consolidated corporate entities in the Internet field will mean that governments will find it cheaper and more efficient to rely on preexisting (and constantly innovating) private infrastructure instead of relying on an uniquely government-run channels. Just as the military has found it useful to outsource counter-terrorist and nation-building operations to private firms like Blackwater (now Xe), it is not unfathomable to imagine Google designing and implementing the algorithms that track terrorist and criminal activity online.

2. Globalization and “Digital Sovereignty” – how should the United States government act with regard to information that exists in the Internet domain?

Although the Internet is widely perceived as a boundary-less resource, serious legal and logistical issues arise when it comes to tracking and sourcing sensitive online data. Servers that store content can be physically located on the opposite side of the planet from the end user, with data likely flowing on a trajectory through any number of intermediary nations along the way. How does the government justify intrusion into a nation’s “digital domain” for the purposes of collecting intelligence or tracking subjects? The answers are far from clear, and these are some of the major issues being hammered out in the nebulous arena of international law, where sovereignty interests compete strongly against security interests. (This should be a hint to law students looking for unique career options.)

3. Cyberwarfare – Within the next decade, it is likely that we will face some sort of large scale terrorist attack that at least temporarily disables a key element of our technological infrastructure. The “weaponry”, so to speak, on this battlefront is cheap, accessible, and constantly increasing in sophistication. Just as medicines and vaccines must continually be tweaked and refashioned to combat the latest infections and diseases, so too must firewalls, encryption, and anti-virus systems against the ever-growing threats. Given that our military is becoming increasingly reliant on computer technology for combat operations, it is imperative that we prioritize cyberdefense. And as we have seen with the recent Google-China controversy, the actors in digital confrontations are not limited to hostile states.

These broad categories only scratch the surface of the complex security issues that lie at the frontier of the Internet domain. But increased awareness of their importance is our first step to developing coherent and sensible policy in a 21st century framework.

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One thought on “Challenges Along the Digital Frontier with National Security Ramifications

  1. […] on technology issues as relating to military and security concerns. My first post is accessible here. I’m pretty humbled to have my piece sit alongside contributions from some of the sharpest […]

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