Posted on 26 October 2016.
Photo Credit: Download Detector
On Friday, October 20th, malicious cyber attacks prohibited access to major websites like Twitter, PayPal, and Amazon in intermittent locations throughout the U.S. and abroad. Experts determined the attacks are the result of a virus that infected thousands of users’ internet-connected devices through webcams and video recording devices. This method of hacking is both complicated and sophisticated, which makes it difficult to prevent within the general population of internet product users.
While both the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security announced investigations into the incident, public response to the attacks demonstrates mounting uneasiness about cyber security. Coming on the heels of the Democratic National Committee hacks this summer, Friday’s attacks raise questions about cyber security and the proper response by both national and international bodies. The Department of Homeland Security did issue a warning about the virus code last week, but this ultimately was not enough to remedy the security gaps in consumers’ devices. Some in the industry have assigned blame to the producers of such devices, but many now contend that the issue of cyber security is an international issue that must have an international solution.
Because cyber attacks of international scope are a relatively new phenomenon, the U.N. Charter does not explicitly provide for a procedure to address their consequences and effects. As such, it remains unclear what kind of responses to cyber attacks would be legal under international law. Most likely an issue of self-defense, article 51 of the U.N. Charter provides that, “Nothing in the present charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations. . . .” Cyber attacks, however, are certainly not “armed” attacks in the traditional sense, so any retribution framed in terms of self-defense may not prove to be a successful argument under the Charter. As international law currently stands, cyber security suffers from a noticeable gap.
Governments could also seek to impose sanctions and countermeasures against the perpetrators of cyber attacks, but this strategy poses an additional issue. Because these attacks are designed to preserve the hackers’ anonymity, attributing the attacks to a foreign government is extremely difficult. Attributions would necessitate an investigation into the level of complicity the foreign government had in the individuals’ hacking efforts, which could range from explicitly contracting for their services or neglecting to shut down suspected offenders. Further, the possible development of automated or “robot” hackings make punishing even individual offenders a complicated affair.
Because cyber attacks are likely to only increase in severity and frequency as technology and hackers become more advanced, the international community may be forced to address the issue in setting a clear legal precedent for the aftermath of incidents like Friday’s blackout.
Jane Rugg is a 2L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, and she is currently the Event Coordinator for the Denver Journal for International Law and Policy.
Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, DJILP Staff, Jane Rugg
Posted on 27 March 2014.
On March 20, 2014, Turkey blocked its citizens from the social media website, Twitter. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the main culprit for this act. During a campaign rally, he stated “Now there is a court order. Twitter, mwitter, we will eradicate it all.” His purported reason behind the block: privacy concerns.
Prime Minister Erdoğan claimed that the block was a response to Twitter’s refusal to implement several court orders. The court orders stipulated that the social media platform “remove some links” per alleged complaints filed by Turkish citizens. Despite this, many people around the world believe that the prime minister wanted to remove tweets that included hyperlinks to incriminating audio of the prime minister and other top officials engaged in corruption. One such link contained audio of a male’s voice that closely resembled Prime Minister Erdoğan’s. The voice instructed another man to “dispose of large amounts of cash from a residence amid a police investigation.” Predictably, the prime minister denied any corruption. However, due to Turkey’s recent history of blocking social media websites, this looks more like an abuse of power to silence any opposition. Such drastic measures present two immediate concerns.
A woman protests the Twitter ban by writing a physical tweet. Image Source: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images.
First, blocking Twitter debilitates some Turkish citizens’ hopes of ascension into the European Union (“EU”). Stefan Fule, the EU’s commissioner for enlargement, recently stated that blocking Twitter “raises grave concerns and casts doubt on Turkey’s stated commitment to European values and standards.” This shows that Prime Minister Erdoğan only has his own political interests in mind, not the interests of Turkish citizens.
Second, social media platforms like Twitter empower people because it gives them a way to speak out against an authoritarian regime. This is especially important given Prime Minister Erdoğan’s recent restrictions on the flow of information through traditional media, such as newspapers and television news. Sadly, Twitter is the only remaining avenue for the Turkish citizens. It is clear that the Internet has become the “last preserve of freedom of information in Turkey.” Thus, without Twitter, the prime minister hoped to silence the Turkish people.
Objectively, Turkey’s block on Twitter was predictable. Many countries before Turkey have clung to such efforts in a last ditch effort to silence any opposition. However, the fact Turkish citizens have found ways around the restrictions showed that such oppressive measures are as draconian as the authoritarian regimes that instituted the blocks. As has been the case with other situations around the world, Turkey is the latest example of an undeniable truth: countries cannot block Twitter. Because of this, historically oppressive countries are losing their ability to deny a fundamental human right: the freedom of expression.
Casey Smartt is a 2L and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy
Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, Casey Smartt, DJILP Staff