In today’s Washington Post, Senators Lieberman, Collins and Carper had an op-ed calling for comprehensive cybersecurity legislation. If we don’t pass such legislation soon, they say, “The alternative could be a digital Pearl Harbor — and another day of infamy.”
Last time I checked, Pearl Harbor left over two thousand persons dead and pushed the United States into a world war. There is no evidence that a cyber-attack of comparable effect is possible. Yet as I write in TIME.com’s Techland, war rhetoric allows government to pursue avenues that might otherwise be closed:
The problem with the war metaphor is that treating a cyber attack as an act of war, rather than a crime, invites a different governmental response. In the offline world, vandalism, theft, and even international espionage are treated as crimes. When you detect them, you call law enforcement, who investigate and prosecute and, most importantly, do so while respecting your civil liberties. In war, these niceties can go out the window.
War changes the options available to government, says noted security expert Bruce Schneier. Things you would never agree to in peacetime you agree to in wartime. Referring to the warrantless wiretapping of Americans that AT&T allowed the NSA to conduct after 9/11, Schneier has said, “In peacetime if the government goes to AT&T and says, ‘Hey, we want to eavesdrop on everybody,’ AT&T says, ‘Stop, where’s your warrant?’ In wartime, AT&T says, ‘Use that closet over there, lock the door, and just put a do not disturb sign on it.’”
Check out the whole article for more outrage.