Every decision in life is a trade off, whether or not you take the bus or walk, what type of clothing you wear, whether you study or go out. All decisions come with consequence. Hobbes mused about a more serious tradeoff in many of his writings, a tradeoff that is faced regularly by sovereigns governing the commonwealth. Remove the freedoms of its citizens, or fall into a State of Nature. When a government takes away some freedoms of its citizens one could argue that the population is generally more secure and less vulnerable to the chaos of the State of Nature. Hobbes believed that governments were under a “moral, not legislative obligation” to keep their people safe. He believed that there was a “constant war” without regulation and that every sovereign was faced with a decision. Keep his commonwealth safe and limit the freedoms man is naturally born with, or allow his commonwealth to regress into a dystopic State of Nature. In the 21st century this same conflict presents itself in the area of personal finance, people have gained greater, easier, and more efficient access to their own financial information through e banking. This places our current government in a dilemma. Should banking be limited to secure, face-to-face transactions that eliminate a large portion of the risk for identity theft? Or should we continue as we are, in a vulnerable society of e transactions?
Hobbes favored an all-powerful monarch over any other form of government to regulate a nation, as well as the security of said Leviathan over the constant war of the State of Nature. While Hobbes believed that every man had a right to everything, the need for self-preservation was his first law of nature. In accordance with this fundamental law, people take all kinds of precautions to preserve their identity. From shredding sensitive documents to the safeguards (both cyber and otherwise) put in place by institutions that regularly access their customers’ personal financial information. In spite of these precautions, identity theft is the fastest growing type of cyber crime due to its lucrative results, high level of anonymity, and relative ease. In 2005 alone, over 42 million Americans became susceptible to identity theft through malicious attacks on databases holding sensitive financial information. This recent rise in identity thefts has coincided with the growing popularity of Internet banking as well as developments that have made technology easier to use than ever.
While it may be up to the individual citizen to regulate and protect themselves in this situation, Sean Hoar, a top US attorney for cyber-crime recently wrote that he believes the two most pressing needs in the fight against identity theft are the establishment of a national response system and a national threat and vulnerability reduction system for cyber-crime. Under their moral obligation to keep their citizens safe, the government must take the steps outlined by Hoar to police the Internet against the rapidly rising threat of identity theft.
While there is no cure-all solution to the problem of identity theft, the issue remains a pressing concern. This modern problem presents current sovereigns with the same dilemma that was presented during Hobbes’ day: keep the commonwealth secure, or allow them uninhibited freedom and the risks that come with it.