Fraser Forum

The importance of cyber-security to liberty

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We all know the Internet was designed not with security in mind, but rather openness and the free flow of information.

This has been beneficial for liberty. The no-barrier, global, connected nature of the Internet has brought unprecedented levels of information and commercial exchange, contributed enormous gains to individual prosperity, empowered individuals, bypassed governments, and promoted and expanded individual freedom.

Only in recent years have people, businesses, industries, and governments come to recognize the importance of protecting this critical sphere of activity on which so much liberty, property, prosperity and security depends.

A recent Fraser Institute study spotlighted the importance of cyber-security to liberty.

Some 431 million people are victimized in cyberspace per year, and cyber-crime represents an economy “larger than the global black market for marijuana, cocaine, and heroin combined,” according to a report from the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. One study estimates the global costs of “malicious” cyber-activity at between $375 billion and $575 billion.

How to detect, withstand, recover from and, if possible, stop illegitimate activity in cyberspace while protecting legitimate activity—all without compromising the Internet’s open character—is the challenge. According to the Fraser Institute study, “Overemphasizing security can restrict freedom and stifle entrepreneurial potential… Conversely, cyber-liberty without an appreciation of cyber-security presents rising commercial and governmental costs as well as unacceptable threats to national security.”

The choice is not only liberty or only security. Liberal democracies must aim for both. The study recommends, among other things, a:

• continued role for national governments in securing cyberspace, just as they play a role in securing airspace and seaspace;
• recognition that the sprawling nature of cyberspace, outsized reach of cyber-actors, and fluidity between defensive and offensive actions in cyber-security make difficult the application of traditional forms of deterrence;
• recognition that cyber-security is best understood as gaining and maintaining maximum overall resiliency;
• and a recognition in Ottawa, Washington, and among the closest allies of Canada and the United States, of the benefits each derives from deepening and widening cyber-security cooperation.

Long before there was such a thing as cyberspace, Adam Smith, the father of free-market economics, noted that “the first duty of the sovereign” is to protect society from “violence and invasion.” What serves as the launching pad for violence or invasion—land, sea, sky, space or cyberspace—diminishes neither the danger nor the sovereign’s duty to confront it.

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