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There may not be anything new under the sun, but there are different ways of doing things, thanks to Homo faber, man the toolmaker. We've been sending messages to distant people for centuries, but now you can do it instantly. Technology offers some great advantages to modern man, but it also brings unique challenges when we try to apply constitutional laws to new toys.

A document written in 1787 outlines rules for our government. But how does it regulate technology more than two centuries later? For example, the First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech. You can say whatever you want to the president (so long as it isn't threatening). But do those same rights apply to the president's Twitter account? The courts had to figure that out. In the end, they ruled the president can't block anyone on Twitter.

The Fourth Amendment guarantees protections against unwarranted searches and seizures. That was meant to apply to our physical property. But we have digital property now. Do Fourth Amendment protections protect your email inbox or cloud storage from unwarranted search and seizure? To the briefs!

Perhaps one of the biggest questions posed by new technology is war powers. We learned in civics class that Congress has the power to declare war under Article I of the Constitution. The president, within limits, can deploy forces without a declaration of war. Here's a question for 2019's students: Who has power over a war that doesn't involve a physical battlefield?

In 2019 we have a new type of war, and it's fought daily. It doesn't directly cost lives or cause physical damage, but there are significant security and financial risks to this battle: It's called cyber warfare, and this is one of those areas that remains to be figured out by lawmakers. (On a trip to UCA last weekend, we ran into a ROTC student who was going into the Cyber branch of the Army. Cyber branch? Turns out it's the latest focus of the Army.)

Last year Congress had Google's CEO testify, and it was embarrassing the number of ignorant questions that were asked of the poor man. One congressman demanded to know why negative ads with inflammatory language popped up on his granddaughter's iPhone. The CEO politely informed the congressman that Google doesn't make the iPhone. Apple does.

This highlights part of the problem our nation faces in the world of cyber warfare. If lawmakers can barely work their smartphones, let alone identify who makes them, how do we trust them to craft laws and regulations that keep our digital assets safe?

We already know Chinese and Russian hackers work actively against our infrastructure on a regular basis. They're constantly looking for weaknesses in our government databases, our power grids, our voting systems and so much more.

Our nation needs to make cyber security a higher priority and establish mandatory training for lawmakers--for no other reason than to get them to understand just how potent a threat we're facing. The Army seems to have a head start with that Cyber branch.

There are many questions to answer, and we're worried it'll take some kind cataclysmic system failure on the part of international hackers to drive our leaders to adequately address this problem. Will it take a cyber 9/11 or another crash a la 1929 to take the threat seriously?

We can all hope not.

Editorial on 02/02/2019

Print Headline: Big questions


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