The Obama Administration and the 114th Congress will spend their final days investigating claims that Russian hackers attempted to skew election results in favor of Donald Trump. The United States is the most powerful nation on the planet. Undue influence over the US government is, therefore, a prize coveted by those who seek power from across the globe. Although special interests groups and every sort of lobbyist imaginable have spent decades “hacking” America’s political system in order to push their own policy agendas over the collective interests of the American People, the 2016 Presidential Election has forced the threat of cyber warfare to democracy into the spotlight.
Unfortunately, the crimes allegedly committed by Russian hackers are not the only attempts by hackers to skew US election results. In the spring of 2016, Anonymous Hacktivists decided to rally support for a massive attack on Donald Trump’s primary campaign, because they found him offensive. Where Anon Hacktivists exemplify the power of the technically skilled to empower the oppressed and oppress those they oppose, they also made themselves a threat to the democratic rights of dissenters. The crimes committed by Russian hackers, however, exemplifies the threat of state-sponsored cyber warfare to responsive democratic governance. Unlike the CIA hacking of Congress, which was revealed in early 2014, the Russian hacking also has the added dimension of undue foreign influence.
In 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to a joint-session of Congress, which was planned and scheduled without the President, sparked a major controversy, because it was seen as an effort by a foreign dignitary to use the divide between Republicans and Democrats to further Israeli interests. Although Israel’s special relationship with the US affords Israel a great deal of immunity when it comes to controversial policies, even its Prime Minister was subject to harsh criticism for attempting to hijack the internal affairs of the US political system. Consequently, accusations against the government of a rival like Russia, or any other nation, cannot simply be ignored.
At the heart of all power is legitimacy. For democracy, it is the decision of a population to embrace a leader that gives that leader his, or her, legitimacy. Given the unresponsive nature of the US government and the narrow margins seen in all US elections, there are always questions of legitimacy. Having lost the popular vote by a narrow margin, Mr. Trump’s Electoral College victory leaves him feeling particularly vulnerable to questions of legitimacy. Donald Trump may not be liked by those in America’s political industry, while many would like to see President Trump prematurely forced from Office, but a thorough review of any accusations of foreign and/or criminal interference in US election is essential, because such reviews add legitimacy to America’s faulted democratic process.
The role of modern government is to properly address and balance the interests of all the People(s) of a nation. This requires the People have effective representation of their views and interests in government. It also requires a culture of transparency where public officials understand even the deepest of government secrets will eventually be revealed to the public. Ultimately, this hinges upon the ability of voters to be informed, instead of misinformed or misdirected, when they choose their leaders and embrace public policy priorities. The strategic, one-sided release of hacked documents allows for the manipulation of US elections, which undermines the legitimacy and effectiveness of elections.
Furthermore, cyberspace is a lawless land where criminals, corporations, and governments find themselves on equal footing as they vie for control of the modern world’s most valuable commodity: information. On the worldwide web, power depends on technical knowledge and skill. The United States might be the most powerful nation in the real world based on economic and military might, but the US is equal to the agents and contractors of Russia, Turkey, Israel, Iran, and China in the digital realm. The internet is a great equalizer when it comes to the powerful; however, the anarchy of the internet leaves the world vulnerable to the wrongs of those who have mastered cyberspace.
People speak freely and honestly when they feel safe enough to express their true beliefs and thoughts without reprisal. The internet is one place where most people can express their true interests, which is necessary for democracy and society to thrive. There is, however, a need to guard against misinformation and manipulation. If the internet is to remain free for all the Peoples of the world, it must have some form of protection. Because the internet is the World Wide Wide and relies on the policies of all governments, the International Community as a whole has a major role in determining how the internet is governed. In other words, cyber security and cyber liberty can only be properly addressed through international cooperation.
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