Cyber War and Real War

by edwardmroche

Today it was announced that Ibrahim Abdelqader was killed by ISIS.(1)  He had been active in the online world, operating a website of the “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” organization.  ISIS having read this information, then decided to kill him directly.

Apart from the issue of freedom of speech, this incident shows the connection between what is happening in the cyber world and its parallel with the real world, in this case the real world of warfare.

Nations that are involved in fighting ISIS face a number of challenges, and some of these link back to fundamental values. For example:

  1. If Freedom of Speech or Freedom of Communication is a core value, then is there justification in working to stop ISIS from publishing information on the Internet?  If not ISIS directly, then should persons be able to publish information in support of ISIS?  If the published information calls for active support of ISIS, then should it be publishable?
  2. Eavesdropping and SIGINT.  Should all manner of personal privacy be compromised in the name of national security?  For example, if the Internet is an important recruiting tool for ISIS, then should governments be able to monitor the Internet to combat ISIS?  How far can this monitoring go?  For example, if a person visits an ISIS-support website, then should their privacy in turn be compromised?  These are complex legal questions, and will be answered in different ways by different governments.

An additional consideration is cyber war.  If the coalition fighting ISIS is busy dropping bombs on various targets, then should it not also be part of any military mandate to disrupt and destroy all ISIS cyber activity?  If so, then who exactly is trained to do this?

In sum, there is an important link between what happens in the cyber world, and what happens in the real world, and this linkage is a grey area for many legal principles.

(1) Erika Solomon, Isis claims activist killing in Turkey, Financial Times (online), November 2, 2015. (