In a hearing last Monday before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI Director James Comey commented that the Russian intervention in the presidential election was "unusually loud" and "almost as if they didn't care that we knew."
Honestly, that's probably because they didn't. And the subsequent inaction to prevent them from doing it again means they didn't need to.
Russia has long been spying on and interfering with the United States. Sure, at the height of the Cold War, Russia had to send spies onto American soil to carry out this mission; but the intent and the message are identical to the hacking carried out today.
Cyberspace creates a vast new opportunity for conspiracy, crime, espionage, and terrorism. The Russians and Americans, among others like China, are equal participants in striving to conquer this new frontier for national advantage.
The scariest thing about the Russian hacking is not the fact that it influenced our election, but how we've responded. In scrambling to keep up with cyberspace, the United States is risking patchwork policy that would not only be ineffective but also dangerous.
Policies and laws are reactive, often written in the wake of one specific event and driven more by emotion than by rational thought. When the next event occurs that seems similar, we apply the same policy to cover instances never intended. If we do not address these gaps soon, civil liberties will go down the toilet as the anxiety of preserving collective national security (pun intended) trumps good sense.
Legislating on the national level restricts the rights of our own citizens while failing to reach hackers on Russian soil. The answer cannot be shaped by one country, but is instead something to be governed internationally, as we've previously done to develop rules of war and international humanitarian protections.
The good news is there is precedent we can follow. In the 1960s, we realized - on a global scale, but especially in regard to the Americans and Russians - that no one nation can own outer space. We understood that landing on the moon didn't give a nation ownership of the moon. The space race prompted the United Nations. and other international organizations to agree on certain rules and standards to govern this unknowable realm that defies the drawing of borders. We protected for all eternity space as an asset for all.
Cyberspace should be treated in the same way: It's an amazing, boundless opportunity for all of humankind, and the freedom of that must be protected. The longer we wait to develop a set of ethics and a code of conduct for online behavior, the longer we lack any true ability to protect ourselves from hacks.
We must protect cyberspace and its benefits for us all. We must replace reckless and wanton national espionage and the lawlessness of crime gangs with good governance and international public laws that encourage the use of this technology frontier for good.
President Barack Obama responded to reports of Russian hacking during last year's election by expelling 35 Russian diplomats and shutting down two Russian facilities in the United States. President Trump, too, has spoken of sanctions and punishments that involve Russian interests in the United States. Yet neither applied a punishment that in any way inhibits Russia from reoffending.
How about a useful response instead? Rather than agonizing over what the Russians have done or will do, the United States, along with the rest of the world, needs to get its act together on cyberspace. Let's take a collective calming breath and focus our efforts on creating a lasting legal and governance infrastructure for cyberspace.