“No stop signs, speed limit
Nobody’s gonna slow me down
Like a wheel, gonna spin it
Nobody’s gonna mess me around”

This blog is directed toward examining the tensions that arise as technology runs square into the law and the practice of law. Often the fit between the two doesn’t exist, or isn’t great mainly because the law looks backward and cant see solutions to problems that didn’t exist before. And sometimes the opposite occurs: we try to change the law to attack a new kind of problem and in doing so create a whole host of unintended consequences.

One glaring example is the ACDC Act which was proposed earlier this year by Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia. The Act, technically named the Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act, is essentially a sanction of vigilante justice whereby individuals and companies that are hacked or victims of cyber attacks can, in essence, hack back. Graves says that this will level the battlefield and empower victims of cyber attacks, thus chilling I suppose future attacks. “The bill is about empowering individuals to defend themselves online, just as they have the legal authority to do during a physical assault” says Graves.

Granted, the bill has some limits: you can’t destroy anything on the hackers computer, only try to get your stuff back and you have to tell the FBI what your doing.

But the wrongheaded nature of this and risk of mischief that could be done is pretty high. The counter attack could easily cause damage to other systems and computers say security experts. But more than that, it opens the doors for attacks on the innocent. Are hacked companies truly better than law enforcement at figuring out the source of the attacks? What about the due process safeguards built into our systems to make sure that the wrong person isn’t impacted by the counter attack? Rarely do cyber criminals tell everyone who they are or make their systems easily accessible for attack. So, it may sound good to make cyber the Wild West but the potential fall out is pretty severe. And of course, Rep. Graves, we all have the right to self defense, but a counter attack goes beyond self defense. It amounts to taking the law into ones own hands, something the rule of law has always frowned on.

It amounts to taking the law into ones own hands, something the rule of law has always frowned on.

By all accounts, this bill has little chance of becoming law, although in these days and times there is no predicting. But this is a good example of a situation where we should try our best to prevent attacks, secure the best we can our systems and then let existing law and law enforcement do their jobs and allow the old fashioned rule of law to prevail. New problems require hard clear thinking, throwing out the old where necessary but keeping it when it still protects us.






Photo Attribution: Thomas Leuthard via Flickr