New Castle News


September 12, 2012

Our Opinion: Seeking a balance between public safety and freedom in cyberspace

NEW CASTLE — The Internet is an amazing resource.

It provides seemingly endless information and entertainment. And it has become an instrumental tool for commerce, allowing businesses to reach customers in ways that were once impossible.

Today, it’s difficult to imagine life without the Internet and all it can do. But as everyone knows — or ought to know — the World Wide Web has its dark side, one that’s fraught with danger.

On an individual level, this includes such things as scams and viruses that can cost money, disrupt computers and generally make things miserable. However, cyberspace contains other dangers that have genuinely deadly consequences.

Modern society runs on computers. They operate the electrical grid, water systems, power plants, financial networks. An increasing concern with national security and defense involves protecting key facilities from cyber attacks. In theory, if a hacker could interfere with nuclear power plant operations, he could cause it to malfunction and create a disaster.

That’s just one dramatic example. Other scenarios could produce blackouts in cities, shut down water supplies or disrupt telecommunications. It’s safe to assume that in future wars, cyber attacks will be just as common as bombs and missiles, perhaps more so.

And they could be just as damaging and deadly.

The businesses that operate power plants and other at-risk facilities have good reasons to protect their assets. But that doesn’t guarantee they will be successful. This is why the federal government is involved in cybersecurity. The potential for public harm is simply too great for Washington to ignore.

Yet like everything else, government involvement in Internet security comes with its own set of concerns. The extent to which government can — and should — direct the Web security operations of private companies has been an ongoing debate. For instance, businesses worry that more cyber security regulations will add costs without guaranteeing any real protection.

Earlier this year, Congress failed to pass cybersecurity legislation, mainly because of such objections from the business community. Now the Obama administration is preparing an executive order in an effort to address concerns raised by national security experts.

We don’t claim to be authorities when it comes to security in cyberspace. But we do know there are legitimate dual interests here, both for business and government.

Regulation of cyber communications should not stifle crucial business operations. At the same time, however, operators of key facilities and services need to consider what will happen if the type of breach that’s feared by security officials actually happens. The resulting government regulations at that point would be hard to fight.

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