Terrorism and the Internet: Do We Need an International Solution?

Terrorism and the Internet: Do We Need an International Solution?

Gilbert Ramsay (University of St. Andrews, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-831-9.ch013

Abstract

Over the last few years, it has often been suggested that use of the Internet for a variety of terrorist purposes constitutes a serious threat, and requires action of some kind at the international level. This chapter begins by examining the threat. It argues that the looseness of “terrorism” as a phenomenon – particularly as represented on the Internet – means that the problem may have been exaggerated. The issue, after all, is not in and of itself that terrorist organizations or individual “terrorists” are using the Internet, but rather, whether there is more terrorist violence happening as a result. This question is far from resolved, but there does not seem to be compelling evidence that there is. The chapter then considers the proposition that an “international problem” like terrorist use of the Internet requires an “international solution.” It provides the observation that this formula assumes a symmetry between actions available to terrorist actors and states which may, in itself, make for unimaginative counter-terrorism policy. It then considers whether there is a residue of issues arising from terrorist use of the Internet which can genuinely not be countered at a local level, and which are not already relevant to existing international counter-terrorism provisions. Given the serious changes action here would imply for Internet governance, and the uncertainty of the gains that would be delivered in terms of security, there is probably not good reason yet for drastic international action against specifically terrorist misuse of the Internet.
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2. Conceptualizing Use Of The Internet For Terrorist Purposes

In order to determine what type of response might be appropriate in the face of terrorism arising from use of the Internet, it is necessary first to determine what such a situation would actually mean. For one thing, it is now a matter of fairly widespread scholarly agreement that not all uses of the Internet which relate to terrorism are meaningfully described as “cyberterrorism”. This point has been made emphatically by both Denning (2001) and Weimann (2005), who argue for a relatively constrained definition of cyberterrorism to include only terrorist attacks accomplished electronically by means of the Internet (there is some question in Weimann's analysis as to whether physical attacks on Internet infrastructure might also be included). This means, by contrast, that use of the Internet in a support role by groups carrying out terrorist attacks in other ways or, on the other hand, politically motivated “hacktivist” activities which are annoying but which fall short of the level of carnage and scariness required of a terrorist attack do not qualify.

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