Discussing the state of cyber law, warfare in the new Internet age

The Alexander Hamilton Society works to educate the student body on current domestic and international policies and issues

Maya Lora

Photo by Rachel Campbell, ’18.
Alexander Hamilton Society leads their second debate.

The Alexander Hamilton Society hosted a debate on cyber law to discuss how cyber law and warfare are part of the new territory of the Internet age that is rapidly emerging onto the global scene.

Washington and Lee University Professor Mark Rush and Dr. Peter Mansoor from Ohio State University used the debate to try to close the gap in student’s knowledge on this hotbed issue.

This was the Alexander Hamilton Society’s second debate this year. The society, which is part of a larger national organization, wants to expand the discussion of domestic and international policies on campus in order to ensure the student body is informed about and engaged in their world.

AHS is currently planning on hosting a debate focused on terrorism next fall.

AHS also hosts bi-weekly open-forum discussion groups where students can come to present viewpoints on important issues or can just sit back and learn.

Alexandra Seymour, ‘17, is the AHS president and founder of the Washington and Lee chapter.

“We don’t want it to be an extra academic burden. They come to learn because they want to,” Seymour said.

Both Rush and Mansoor were very qualified to discuss the night’s topic. Rush has a doctoral degree in politics and the author of several relevant novels about de- mocracy. He has also previously taught a class on the subject. Dr. Peter Mansoor is a military historian who served as a foreign executive during the Iraq war.

The debate consisted of ten-minute opening statements, two-minute rebuttals from each and then a question session from AHS and the audience. Almost all of the sections ran over time because the professors were passionate about the discussions.

A large focus of the discussion on cyber law was on Julian Assange, the editor- in-chief of WikiLeaks, and former CIA employee who leaked several sensitive gov- ernment documents, Edward Snowden.

Mansoor said both Assange and Snowden were traitors and anarchists who en- dangered U.S. security.

He also said WikiLeaks is no more than a front for the Russian government whose leaked documents serve to impair American trust in their intelligence agen- cies.

Rush took a different approach to the discussion. He said he would leave it to history to determine whether Snowden was a traitor or not, based on whether the information revealed in the leaks justified his determination to steal them.

“We need whistleblowers, even if they don’t always turn out to be good guys,” Rush said.

Rush also said that there will be multiple Assange figures to emerge throughout the years coming from different backgrounds and for different purposes. His main point throughout the debate was that ethics law and warfare are all a part of a new territory that the entire world is still trying to make sense of.

The debate covered several relevant topics, including the government’s exposed metadata collection program, cyber security programs for private companies and the government’s role in protecting them, the media’s role in covering leaked docu- ments and what it means to exist in an era of cyber warfare.

Mansoor was passionate about defense of the metadata program. He explained his perspective using an analogy from Baghdad, Iraq, referencing a camera that would record a location 24/7 in order to collect evidence in case there was a car bomb or similar situation. He said this technology can be used to track terrorists and their networks in a similar fashion, but acknowledged that as terrorists begin to stop using trackable means of communication, the point might end up being moot.

The two professors were able to respectfully agree on many aspects of the de- bate. They both agreed that journalists need to start being gatekeepers of the news again and pursue investigative journalism in order to keep current leaked document stories in context.

“The media keeps saying if instead of exploring what the CIA actually did, and it’s confusing the American people,” Mansoor said about the latest leaked docu- ments.

Students were able to walk away from the debate with a fresh perspective on an issue they may not have thought much about before attending.

“I’m intrigued to see the impact of cyber warfare on the way different countries and nations interact with each other. This is a very interesting conversation being birthed in this day and age,” Joelle Simeu, ‘20, said.