The Ethics of Cyberwarfare

It has long been known that the rapid rate of development of technology can often leave the law behind. Technological advances often chart new territory that the law has not considered.

A great illustration of this is the latest controversy over google glass. The law (and people) do not know how to respond. We have all heard about the public reaction to one google glass user when she was  attacked in a bar in San Francisco. Similarly how should traffic police react when they see a driver using this new product? Some have pulled drivers over and booked them, whilst a colleague who uses google glass claims that they are a less distracting and safer way of using ‘sat nav’ than the dashboard mounted variety.

The stuxnet software jointly developed by the US and Israel had a devastating impact on Iran’s nuclear capability before it was discovered in 2010. This unprecedented attack was not covered by international law and the Geneva Convention.

A country that is ‘attacked’ in this way has to grapple with the idea of how to respond. Does such action amount to an act of war? Would Iran have been justified in treating it as so and responding accordingly?

In this post I want us to reflect on these questions. I also want to look at some of the ethical issues surrounded pilotless drone attacks.

View the resources here and home in on one knowledge question. Then build at least two arguments from different standpoints. Resource each of the two knowledge claims and try to reach a personal conclusion.

In this next video Peter Singer argues that military technology has led to a major displacement of ‘combatants’ experience of warfare. No longer is engagement bound by time and location. A switch can be flicked and the full impact not made until hours, days and weeks later. Similarly a drone ‘pilot’ can be thousands of miles away from their target, and yet see in graphic detail the effect of their actions by virtue of webcams. Where is the war front in these scenarios? Not only does this fundamentally shift the way wars are played out, but also the ethical framework with which we normally judge wartime activity is left impotent and sometimes irrelevant, some argue. Others feel that old principles still hold true in this new context. What do you think?

See full transcript on The Big Think

Key questions

  • Does ethical knowledge change over time as technology develops?
  • How is a cyber-attack that specifically targets computer networks and infrastructure, ethically different to a physical attack on land and people?
  • Is there such a thing as universal ethics that are dependable over time?

The Ethics of Drone Strikes

Key questions

  • How is what remote drone pilots do differ from a physical attack with more traditional weapons?
  • Was the US right to assassinate two of it’s own citizens in the Yemen by drone attack?

The Drone Issue – other resources

Other resources

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