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As Objectivism points out, a proper government is restricted to the task of defending the individual rights of its citizens. Would a cyber-attack from a foreign country on a private, domestic business constitute a violation of rights, and thus fall under the purview of the government? Should government provide a service of defense against such attacks on its citizens?

asked Feb 14 '12 at 21:39

JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

JK Gregg ♦

So far as I am aware, government is simply unable to defend an individual or an individual business in this area by means of preventing or blocking attack. Instead, a typical good approach for an individual or an individual business is a combination of security knowledge, secure practices, and insurance.

(Feb 15 '12 at 15:36) Justice Justice's gravatar image

Well, I was thinking more theoretically. Say, for instance, the U.S. military was unable to protect Alaska form Russian invasion. That certainly would be the failing of Government's proper role of defending the rights of its citizens. How then does this apply to instances of cyber attacks by Russia (or more likely, China)?

From your answer, I'm assuming you agree that it does fall under the purview of government, albiet currently beyond its capacity.

(Feb 15 '12 at 18:07) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

In general, individuals must always be prepared to defend themselves, and must not be wholly reliant on government in the moment of crisis. While government may be able to intercept some crimes, it cannot intercept all or even most. This is a fundamental limitation on government, imposed by such laws as those of physics and those of economics. So far as I can tell, it is not merely a current limitation that governments cannot defend individuals against "cyber" attack; it is a fundamental limitation. Governments must instead investigate and prosecute after-the-fact.

(Feb 15 '12 at 18:25) Justice Justice's gravatar image
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Certainly so-called cyber attacks could violate the rights of U.S. citizens (for example, by damaging or stealing their property). As such, because it is the job of the government to protect its citizens from rights violations, it would be the governments job to protect us from cyber attacks.

HOWEVER, how the government should protect us is a different matter. Should the government actively protect us before attacks occur, or merely punish crimes after they occur?

As a general matter, the government usually protects rights by punishing crimes after they occur. For example, the government is supposed to protect us from murder, but it does not go out en mass and physically follow every person around making sure every second that they are protected. Instead, it prosecutes murders after-the-fact. Thus, to say that a right must be protected is not to necessarily say that it must be protected in a preventative fashion rather than in a punitive fashion. So perhaps the only protection against cyber-attacks we can obtain is to have the government prosecute those who engage in such attacks after the fact.

On the other hand, the government does legitimately prevent some attacks before they occur when it is objectively knowable that they will occur and the government is in a position to do so. So, for example, the police officer who sees a man pull a gun in a crowd can and will legitimately stop the man from shooting without waiting for shots to be fired. Thus, one could try to argue by analogy that preventative measures against cyber-attacks might be better than after-the-fact prosecution. Of course, there are other things to consider, such as whether the "protection" could be done in a way that does not violate rights in the process. As a general rule, Objectivists are against "preventative law," but that phrase does not mean any government action that prevents harms--it means a law that forces innocent persons to behave in a certain way before they have done anything wrong. In contrast, legitimate preventive measures are used against people who have already violated rights to keep them from doing further harm. Thus, in the example above, the gunman had already violated rights by threatening people with the gun--the police officer simply stopped him from doing more serious harm. I am not sure how (or if) it would work in the cyber-attack arena, but I do not see a theoretical reason why it couldn't.

answered Feb 15 '12 at 18:22

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦

edited Feb 15 '12 at 18:34

Slightly off-topic but given that you wrote "gunman had already violated rights by threatening people with the gun", could one use this to say a drunk person have already violated rights by driving drunk?

(Feb 15 '12 at 18:41) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

If it can be objectively determined that the drunk driver is risking harming others (which is very likely), then yes, he has violated the rights of the persons he put at risk. Check out the answers to this question and this question.

(Feb 15 '12 at 19:08) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

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Asked: Feb 14 '12 at 21:39

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Last updated: Feb 15 '12 at 19:08