by Bryan Dooley, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff
While most would likely agree that threats to cybersecurity pose sufficient risk to warrant some level of new regulation, opinions vary widely on the scope and nature of an appropriate response. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, one of several proposed legislative measures intended to address the problem, has drawn widespread criticism. Concerns voiced by opponents have centered on privacy and the potential for misuse of shared information. Some fear the legislation creates the potential for additional harm by allowing or encouraging private parties to launch counterattacks against perceived security threats, with no guarantee they will always hit their intended targets.
In Technopanics, Threat Inflation, and the Danger of an Information Technology Precautionary Principle</strong>, published in Issue 14.1 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Adam Thierer discusses the danger of misguided regulation in response to new and potentially misunderstood technological developments. The discussion centers on what Thierer terms “technopanics”–hasty and often irrational pushes to address a problem in the face of uncertainty and misinformation, sometimes intentionally disseminated by parties who hope to benefit financially or advance a social agenda.
In the context of cyber security, Thierer argues that advocates of an aggressive regulatory response have exaggerated the potential for harm by using language such as “digital Pearl Harbor” and “cyber 9/11.” He argues technopanics have influenced public discourse about a number of other issues, including online pornography, privacy concerns associated with targeted advertising, and the effects of violent video games on young people. While these panics often pass with little or no real lasting effect, Thierer expresses concern that an underlying suspicion toward new technological developments could mature into a precautionary principal for information technology. This would entail a rush to regulate in response to any new development with a perceived potential for harm, which Thierer argues would slow social development and prevent or delay introduction of beneficial technologies.
It’s an interesting discussion. Whether or not cyber attacks pose the potential for widespread death and destruction, there is significant potential for economic damage and disruption, as well as theft or misuse of private or sensitive information. As in any case of regulation in the face of uncertainty, there is also clear potential that an overly hasty or inadequately informed response will go too far or carry unintended consequences.