At a session in Abuja about four months ago, Nii Quaynor the renowned Ghanaian internet engineer and expert, referred to those who conduct terrorist activities on the internet as ‘cyber-miscreants’ – a term that stuck in my mind and I guess that of many delegates judging by their reaction. Owing to issues of timing, I never got the opportunity to engage Nii on that vocabulary.
I had specifically wanted to ask Nii that in his thesaurus, what word would best capture the perpetrator of internet terrorism were it a country rather than an individual? This question is particularly poignant in the context of the prevailing spat between China and Google, which was brewing then and has now escalated to international level with the United States calling on China to moderate itself on the recent cyber attacks on Google that have prompted the search giant to threaten to leave.
I eventually posed the question at Nii’s Nigerian opposite, Chris Uwaje who told me it would be appropriate to call them cyber terrorists for want of a more severe description.
Assuming you catch a ‘cyber-terrorist’ state (my imagination does not stretch that far) what do you do? Prosecute her? Jail her? Who will judge and who will be the jury? And under which law? (my mind drifts to Basil Udotai). Answers on a postcard and please do not mention the UN.
This inevitably leads us down a tricky path. Firstly the very nature of cyber-terrorism – conducted by faceless, ubiquitous entities that could spread across national boundaries- means it does not fit prescribed international or legal definitions. By extension the issue who will emerge victorious – the perpetrators or the prosecutors comes to the fore and it is by no means clear cut. Thirdly there is the issue of retribution. It is easy to administer justice (or punishment if you wish) if the perpetrator is an individual or a group of individuals. However if the perpetrator(s) is a state, then we are in a bit of a sticky situation.
Two days ago as the weekend commenced, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Washington that those perpetrating such cyber attacks “should face (the) consequences.” In specific reference to the China/Google spat. What these ‘consequences’ could possibly be given China’s socio-political, economic and military might is of great interest.
Chris Uwaje had told me then that I should wait till sometime in the first quarter of 2010 when he and his constituency would engage the legislature. I am aware that he is in the fore front of mobilizing effort at getting our legislators to hear him and other experts out on the subject for the purposes of formulating a coherent response to the threat posed by this thorny issue.
Certainly there will be unknowns and unworkables in this scenario. They include what those experts will tell the legislators and what the response of the distinguished Senators will be.
Allegedly all will become clearer on February 11 at the International Conference Centre Abuja. Stick or twist, we all await proceedings with great anticipation.
2/11 must be a date indeed!