Cyber-terrorism and the USA PATRIOT Act

Cyber-terrorism is the interference of computers and computer networks through disruptive activities. This is mainly done by terrorist organizations with an aim of causing threat, panic or harm to the affected individuals. As the use of information technology and especially the use of the internet continue to gain popularity in most human endeavors, terrorist have also taken  advantage of anonymity that is afforded to them by the internet to further their terrorist activities resulting to what is now known as cyber-terrorism. Cyber-terrorism is taken as a crime just like all the other terrorist activities and therefore several laws have been developed to help in prevention of this crime. The USA Patriot Act is one such law that was enacted by the US government in 2001 to fight such forms of terrorism.

Cyber-terrorism can bring about adverse effect to many people and even to a country. It makes a country vulnerable to terrorist attacks which intern weakens the economy of the affected country since terrorist attacks scare away investors. For those businesses that depend on the internet, cyber-terrorism affects the business operations because of the security threat caused to such business and their customers. Fears caused by cyber-terrorism scare away the customers and the downtime that results from criminal activities results into immeasurable money loss for most websites that earn income either through facilitating monetary exchange of goods and services or just through advertisements. Cyber-terrorism may also have negative political implications because in countries like US where technology is so advanced political opponents use cyber-terrorism to fight one another (Gouvin, 2003).

Some real examples of cyber-terrorism activities include a case of terrorist in Romania who gained unauthorized access to the computers that were controlling the life support of a research center in Antarctic, endangering the life of the scientists working in the research center. Fortunately, the cyber-terrorists were stopped from executing their mission before any damage had taken place. In 1999 terrorist attackers who were protesting against bombings in Kosovo by NATO forces hacked the information flow and instead flooded them with emails. This resulted into lack of co-ordination between different units which made it difficult for the forces to execute their operations.  In 2007 there was cyber-terrorism in Estonia where most government networks were bombarded with traffic forcing them to go offline (Gouvin, 2003).

The Patriot Act being one of the laws used to fight cyber-terrorism in US empowered the US law enforcement agencies allowing them to search e-mail and telephone communication particularly the e-mails and telephone communications of the individuals suspected of terrorism activities. The Act came shortly after September 11 attack which occurred in the US and therefore the Act can be said to be one of the measures that the US government undertook to prevent terrorist activities (Gouvin, 2003).

According to the Patriot Act those people who gain unauthorized access to protected computers and cause damage to the owners either through destruction of data or stealing data will be liable for a stiff penalty. If as a result of gaining unauthorized access to a protected computer the affected party suffer a loss of US 5,000 or more the culprit is considered to have committed an offence and is liable for a penalty. In the same perspective, when a person gaining access to unauthorized computer is considered to have committed an offence which results into a threat to public safety or damage to the computer system of critical security departments of the government, the Patriot Act imposes a stiff penalty on an individual who carries out such terrorist actions. In addition, the use of viruses and other destructive software to cause damage to protected computers is also an offence under the Patriot Act and the culprit is liable to up to ten years imprisonment for such a crime (Gouvin, 2003).  

The Patriot Act emphasizes on the need to develop a cyber-security forensic to prevent cyber terrorism. The work of this security system is to examine intercepted computers and produce evidence for criminal activities like cyber-terrorism. The Act also specifies the need to educate the state law enforcement personnel on computer crimes. The Act promotes the need for the federal law enforcement agencies and the local law enforcement personnel to share information on investigations related to cyber-terrorism (Haigh, 2004).

Cyber-terrorism is surrounded by several controversies with some people arguing that labeling it as terrorism creates unnecessary fear and harm to people using electronic media. Numerous claims that the Patriot Act was passed opportunistically following the September 11 attack are also widely spread in America. The main issue of concern is that the application of the Act might cause abuse of individual rights embedded in the constitution especially when communication from law abiding citizens is intercepted by the law enforcement agencies in the name of fighting cyber-terrorism (Swires, 2004).

In conclusion cyber-terrorism is a form of crime with far reaching repercussions not only to an individual but to the whole country when unauthorized persons get access to protected information in computers. It is therefore imperative that all the necessary legislations are put in place to prevent cyber-terrorism just like the Patriot Act has indeed helped to fight cyber-terrorism to a great extent. When such legislations are put in place they may have some shortcomings such as intruding into the private life of innocent citizens. However, as long as the security of the citizens and the nation as a whole is enhanced in the short run, then necessary amendments should be carried out in order to ensure that individual rights are not affected.  


Post a Comment