As cyberspace becomes a dominant form of global communications and trade, so does its political use. This is the first part of a multipart blog on the eight key political issues around internet security and privacy.
Corporate and Military Espionage: Countries accuse each other of hacking to retrieve economic, military or political secrets. Most notably is the ongoing war between US and China. China believes such accusation hurt its business interest and America believes it is loosing investment in research.
Political Whistleblowing: Sites such as WikiLeaks created an international diplomatic furore by publishing US diplomatic cables that are used by the political establishments of many countries in face-offs’ between governments and the opposition. Disclosures on these sites also cover companies such as Swiss Bank, etc and their secrecy laws. Governments claim that these cables violate national security, media takes them as truth and companies have tried to claim the same privacy rights as individuals.
Social Networking and Privacy: This, by far is the most popular among individuals who have posted a large amount of personal data in cyberspace and whose privacy rights are constantly threatened by evolving technology, software defects and default privacy settings of social networking sites. The current low-key launch of Facebook’s facial recognition feature evoked considerable flack as it was rolled out without informing users to change their default settings for additional privacy.
Democracy, Westernization and Cultural Change: Social networking and internet content transcend borders and bring different opinions and ideas into conservative cultures. Some of these trigger people creating social unrest, toppling governments and signaling the winds of political change. Many governments react with censorship, policing and tough laws against online publications.
Governments and privacy: Governments seek to regulate cyberspace to monitor voice and data traffic. There is an ongoing debate on the extent of monitoring needed to ensure that an individual’s right to privacy is not trampled upon.
Military Uses of the Internet: A large number of countries are building cyber commands to prepare for the control of cyberspace. Stuxnet, a malware that severely damaged the Iranian nuclear facility demonstrated that governments are willing to use malware as weapons. Governments are also alleged to have teams of hackers who steal military secrets as well as selective hack to monitor government email accounts and communication. The larger debate here is on the military rules of engagement in cyberspace.
Cybercrime: There are several global crime rings which operate out of many countries specializing in non violent cyber crime such as email scams and other frauds. Unfortunately, since the impact of these crimes is less than violent crimes, drugs or gambling, it has not yet received much attention.
Piracy: Paid digital content such as music and videos are frequently exchanged online using file sharing sites. These exchanges violate copyright agreements of content owners. Content owners have primarily focused their attention on prosecuting file sharing sites and recently in some cases their users. As the value of content grows in cyberspace, legal activity will increase unless a technological way emerges to ensure the owners right on the content.