In class this week with Dr. Michael Sulmeyer, we had a particularly policy-fueled discussion. For a considerable portion of our time together, we landed on the thought-provoking issue of Russian interference with this past election, examining their actions and how the U.S. ought to have responded. I found the comparison between physical attacks and cyber attacks to raise an interesting series of questions. For, in this day and age, where the Internet holds a great deal of power in our lives, does “illegal” activity online warrant the same level of response as a crime committed in person?
Personally, I have a hard time justifying a physical response to a cyber-provocation. In the case of Russia, for example, unless their actions had caused some sort of physical repercussions, e.g. violence where people died, I don’t think a military response would have been necessary. There are plenty of cases in which online activity incited some sort of tangible action–take the online posts which organize violent protests or terrorist attacks, for example. In those instances, I think it’s much easier to argue for a strong, physical response in those cases.
In the election interference issue, I would much rather have seen an equivalent action from the U.S. Sanctions are pretty weak and clearly haven’t stopped Russia from doing what they want. Rather, I lean on the side of sneaky, anonymized action on the Russian Internet. Something like the political response, which Dr. Sulmeyer suggested, seems reasonable. Just as they undermined our democratic process, it seems best to have undermined their government, i.e. Putin, with action that results in the same type of propoganda.
At the root of this debate, moreover, lies a much more general discussion. That is, whether or not the Internet has really become so engrained in our lives that we treat everything on it as “real.” For me, there is way too much volatility online–way too much unchecked, free space–that it is hard to take everything on the net at face value. For the time being, and I could easily see this changing in the near future, I still see a distinction between real life and life on the Web, particularly when there are dire consequences in the case of physical intervention. Most importantly, war that starts as cyberwarfare should stay cyber.