Would We Go to War Over Facebook? How Far Would We Go In Its Defense?

We keep hearing more and more about cyberwarfare – but how serious is it going to get? Could cyber fights escalate to have real-world repercussions? Meaning, would one country bomb or invade another after a cyber attack?

In a recent Slate article, these are the questions being asked.

“Cyberwarfare will dramatically alter the face of war, ushering in an era where warriors battle online and with code, instead of on the battlefield with bullets. For example, political tensions boiled to the surface two weeks ago with the U.S.’s surprising indictment of five hackers, allegedly affiliated with China’s People’s Liberation Army. The high-profile Stuxnet attack in 2010 is another such example, in which a computer worm, introduced by a flash drive, crippled Iran’s nuclear program. While there have been centuries of thought devoted to the ethics of war, can that thought corpus accommodate the unique issues posed by cyberwarfare?” write authors Fritz Allhoff and Ryan Jenkins.

They cite Article 51 of the U.N. Charter which “grants a state the right of self-defense in the light of an ‘armed attack’ against it. Could a cyber attack ever be seen as an armed attack? There are instances where it could be viewed that way. But what about inconveniencing people? How far would we go in defense of our being inconvenienced?

“Should states be able to defend themselves with lethal force against nonlethal, but inconvenient deprivations? There are two starkly different ways to answer this question,” they write.

“One way to look at it is that a bunch of minor inconveniences can add up to justify the use of lethal force. This is where Facebook comes in—if millions of Americans are going to be knocked off of the website for a week, we might think that their collective inconvenience could, at least in theory, make the terrorist liable to a lethal attack. Sure, being knocked off Facebook isn’t that important, but if enough people are knocked off and suffer enough frustration for long enough, we might think that is just as morally bad as killing a few people. And killing a few people would definitely be enough to justify a lethal response.

“The other way to look at this is that the inconvenience, however much and however extensive, just can’t justify the use of lethal force—to use the technical term, these are “incommensurable” harms. It doesn’t matter whether a thousand people are knocked off Facebook, or a million, or a billion. It doesn’t matter whether these people are knocked off Facebook for an hour, for a week, or forever. Missing enough of your distant relatives’ updates about Dancing With the Stars or photo albums of drunken escapades, could never add up to justify a killing.”

The article concludes, “In one sense, this is a deeply theoretical question about the ethics of war. In another, though, it portends an imminently practical issue, and one that will almost surely be confronted under the aegis of cyberwarfare. The kind of cyberwarfare the world has seen so far is a persistent low boil of economic espionage and theft of intellectual property—witness the five indictments recently handed down by the State Department against members of China’s People’s Liberation Army for stealing corporate secrets. If this kind of persistent annoyance continues long enough, it could eventually have significant economic consequences for America—more dire consequences than a loss of life, even. And the international community is going to have to soon decide whether we are allowed to resort to war to defend against it.”


See the original article here for a more in depth read: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2014/06/cyberwar_ethics_when_is_a_real_