Just Information Warfare, Mariarosaria Taddeo, 2016.

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Just Information Warfare, Mariarosaria Taddeo (2016) 35: 213. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11245-014-9245-8

“I argue that Just War Theory is a necessary but not sufficient instrument for considering the ethical implications of information warfare and that a suitable ethical analysis of this kind of warfare is developed when Just War Theory is merged with Information Ethics.” (213)

In her article “Just Information Warfare”, Mariarosaria Taddeo uses an ethical analysis of information warfare to bridge an ontological gap emerging from the information revolution and the unique capabilities Information Warfare enables which theories like Just War Theory are not equipped handle adequately (JWT). The article is organized in two parts, the first describes information warfare emphasizing its unique characteristics which provoke equally unique problems when JWT is applied to information warfare. The second part introduces Information Ethics and the four principles on which provide its foundation which is then applied to Just War Theory whose product is used to establish three principles of Just Information Warfare which overcomes the ethical issues posed when JWT is applied to information warfare without consideration for its unique attributes. 1Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):213.


Information Warfare (IW) has earned itself the distinction of a domain in which war can be waged, reflected practically and officially by the United States in 2009 in the establishment the United States Cyber Command tasked with organizing and sychronizing of U.S. military networks.2https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Cyber_Command
Taddeo states this clearly, “the ability to control, disrupt, or manipulate the enemy’s information infrastructure has become as decisive as weapon superiority in determining the outcome of conflicts.” Although the inclusion of ICT protocols and the Cyber Attacks it enables within her definition of Information Warfare is expected, Taddeo goes a step further to include robotic weapons.

Taddeo choses this approach in order emphasize informational commonality of information warfare as either the the target, source, or medium” with which IW can be waged. Although these three elements and in particular robotic weaponry can oftentimes be used seamlessly within existing military structures, strategies, and tactics their success is contingent on acquiring and manipulating information relevant to its objectives.3Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):214.


Informational Level of Abstraction

With the informational nature of IW established as the common element throughout, Taddeo proposes using Levels of Abstraction (LoA) to better understand this commonality. Taddeo defines a level of abstraction as a “finite but non-empty set of observables accompanied by a statement of what feature of the system under consideration such a LoA stands for” while a collection of LoA is described as an interface.4Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):215. Essentially, an interface is a tool which can be used to examine a particular system from multiple points of voices without reducing a system to the particular feature an LoA is designed to examine. Essentially, an LoA isolates the elements relevant to a chosen perspective producing observations useful to understanding the system as a whole.5Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):215.

With respect to Information Warfare, Taddeo argues that an informational LoA to examine ICTs, cyber attacks, and robotic weaponry enables an analysis whose similarities are the object of research. Employing an informational LoA does not preclude the eventual application of an LoA designed to elicit observations unique to specific component of information warfare. Consequently, Taddeo argues that using LoAs does not undermine or reduce “the differences between the use of a computer virus, ICT-based communication protocols and robotic weapons nor denies that such different uses generate different ethical issues.”6Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):215. Instead of a fragmented approach which focuses isolated, individual components, Taddeo argues that LoAs will enable a comprehensive analysis of information warfare. 7Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):215.


Information Warfare

Information Warfare is the use of ICTs within an offensive or defensive military strategy endorsed by a [political authority] and aimed at the immediate disruption or control of the enemy’s resources, and which is waged within the information environment, with agent and targets ranging across the physical and non-physical domains and whose level of violence may vary upon circumstances.8Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):215.

The importance of Information warfare can be better understood by examining the foundation which supports it. The interplay between society and technology have been integrated to such a degree that separating them, or even identifying what separates one from the other, has become impossible. Taddeo argues as a result of the information revolution, the non-physical domain has become as important as the physical.9Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):215. In particular, the transversal nature of information warfare as a consequence of the integration of ICTs into all aspects of our lives has revealed weaknesses with Just War Theory’s capacity to adequately handle this new type of warfare.

Traditional war relies on a state’s ability mobilize its military and use violence to control a given territory (Gelven 1994). The destruction in terms of life and infrastructure caused by traditional war force states to carefully consider how and when to employ violence to achieve and often how to minimize the amount of force necessary in order to minimize unnecessary violence.10Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):215. Taddeo rightly points out that information warfare is not always violent yet could become violent even in a instance where force is projecting without any human participation. Using an example of a virus or autonomous robot, Taddeo argues that either could act in a manner that could ultimately be considered an act of war leading to bloodshed and destruction.11Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):215. In such an instance, the transversal nature of information warfare becomes readily apparent.

Transversality emerges from the ontological hiatus and its ethical problems Taddeo previously defines. The very fact that information can avoid bloodshed and destruction makes it an attractive option for states looking to minimize those satisfying ethical considerations and consequently is also an attractive option politically. Succinctly, Taddeo expresses this idea as follows: “Liberates political authority from the burden of justifying military actions to the public.12Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):216. However, although the projection of force through information warfare could avoid both physical and non-physical violence, it is not without consequence. Taddeo illustrates this citing the Grid Ex II Simulation which occurred in 2013 where over 200 utility companies were involved in an exercise orchestrated by the United States government which simulated a cyber attack on the United State’s basic infrastructure. The exercise concluded that had the attack been real, “hundreds of injuries and tens of deaths, while millions of US Citizens would have been left in darkness.13Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):216.

Information Warfare and Just War Theory

Just War Theory was chosen over pacifism and realism as ethical frameworks because “the ethical problems with which JWT is concerned are generated by the very same decisions to declare and to wage either traditional or information war” which therefore sheds on the ethical issues which arise.14Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):216. Specifically, those ethical issues emerge from the inclusion of non physical entities in addition to physical ones revealing “a hiatus between the ontology of entities involved in traditional warfare and of  those involved in IW.15Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):216. Taddeo argues that this ontological hiatus is significant, influencing any ethical analysis because of JWT’s anthropocentric ontological nature which prioritizes human rights.16Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):216.

To properly represent an information centric mode of warfare Taddeo states that the identification and quantification of “information objects” is necessary for bridging the ontological hiatus. Quantification would expand on characteristics found in categories of nearly all sciences such as material entities and qualities of an object which would include “intentional actions, unintended effects, organizations, artefacts’, commands, attacks and so on.17Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):216. Taddeo identifies three principal questions that arise from the process of establishing information object and uses an instance of an autonomous computer virus to work through those questions.18Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):217.


The Three Questions19Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):217.

  1. The first question revolves around the identification of the moral agents.
    1. Is the virus the moral agent?
    2. Is the designer the moral agent?
    3. Is the person who presses the red button the moral agent?
  2. Is the attacked computer the moral patient or is the computer and its users the moral patients?
  3. What rights should be defended in the case of a cyber attack?
    1. Should rights be attributed to the information infrastructures?
    2. The system compounded by the information infrastructure and the users?


The Tenets of Just War Theory and Just Information Warfare

Comparing the tenets of Just War Theory with the unique circumstances Information Warfare allows Taddeo to substantiate and describe the manifestation the ontological hiatus. The first tenet of JWT stipulates that war must only be engaged in as a last resort, when all peaceful alternatives have been exhausted which rests on the understanding that war is a violent and bloody affair and must be avoided if possible. However, the possibility of a state launching a “bloodless” cyberattack qualifies as an unethical act of war even if said cyber attack actually prevents a violent conflict from occurring because the belligerent party has violated the first principle of JWT. Simply, Taddeo believes soft and non-violent information warfare could present themselves as viable alternatives to a traditional, violent and bloody war.20Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):216-7.

The second tenet of JWT states that states “must consider the universal goods expected to follow from the decision to wage war, against the universal evils expected to result”. As such, war can only be justified when the “good” is equal or greater to “evil” that will result.21Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):218. However, the transversal nature of IW is problematic for JWT because it fails to account for non violent cyber attacks which can be framed morally justified such as the destruction of historical information.22Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):218.

The third tenet establishes immunity for non-combatants from deliberate acts of violence which also demarcates civilian from viable military targets. However, distinguishing between civilian, military, and their respective infrastructure is nearly impossible in a cyber warfare scenario as a result of the actions of individuals and the infrastructure employed would be so tightly interwoven it would be impossible to untangle.23Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):218.

Is Just War Theory Adequate?

To support her argument for Just Information Warfare Theory, Taddeo addresses the claims that JWT’s framework is capable of responding to the unique characteristics of cyber warfare. Ultimately, Taddeo believes and substantiates her belief with examples showcasing how JWT cannot properly respond to the “conceptual changes prompted by IW” and “risks confusing an ad hoc remedy with the long term solution, and in the long run, imposing conceptual limitations on the laws and regulations” for information warfare (Source 219). The example of an information system being made temporarily unavailable depriving its users of its functionality, a consequence indistinguishable from its destruction demonstrates provides a clear example of the challenges unique to information warfare’s unique which JWT’s conceptual framework does not manage adequately.24Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):219.

Information Ethics

“Information Ethics is a macro-ethics, which is concerned with the whole realm of reality and provides an analysis of ethical issues by endorsing an informational perspective”.25Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):219.

Taddeo further characterizes Information Ethics “a patient-oriented because it considers the morality of an action with respect to its effect on the receiver of that action” and ontocentric because“ it endorses a non-anthropocentric approach” to ethical analysis.26Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):220. The principle of ontological equality endows all existing things with an initial, equal, and inalienable right to exist and flourish. Assigning a common informational nature to all things establishing an informational perspective which shifts assessments of their moral value. Taddeo makes it clear that Information Ethics is not reductionist, instead it provides a minimal foundation where the value and the contributions of its inhabitants, whether good or evil, can be more accurately reflected using four principles for identifying the rights, wrong, and the moral duties of its agents.27Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):220.

Four Principles for Identifying Right/Wrong and the moral duties of an agent.28Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):221.

\0. Entropy ought not to be caused in the Infosphere (null law);

  1. Entropy ought to be prevented in the Infosphere
  2. Entropy ought to be removed from the Infosphere
  3. The flourishing of informational entities as well as of the whole Infosphere ought to be promoted by preserving, cultivating and enriching their properties.

Principles of Just Information Warfare

To formulate the principles that guide Just Information Warfare, Taddeo explores the morality of artificial agents, however, she omits the process behind their identification stating it being out of scope for this particular paper.29Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):221. Essentially, Taddeo decouples moral accountability of an artificial agent from the moral responsibility of actions it may perform. However, she believes those actions remain morally qualifiable because “they have morally qualifiable effects.30Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):221. Consequently, a “human being, who gains some benefits from the outcome of a cyber attack and the informational infrastructure it disrupts are both moral patients as they both are receivers of the moral action”.31Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):221.

As each patient’s right to exist and flourish is established by the evaluation of the moral value their acts, prioritizing the preservation of those rights within the Infosphere is accomplished by the following three principles of Just Information Warfare.

The Three Principles of Just Information Warfare32Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):221-2.

  1. IW ought to be waged only against those entities that endanger or disrupt the well-being of the Infosphere.
  2. IW ought to be waged to preserve the well-being of the Infosphere.
  3. IW ought not to be waged to promote the well-being of the Infosphere.

Taddeo argues that these three principles make it possible to bridge the previously described ontological hiatus and manage the ethical issues which JWT cannot because of information warfare’s transversal nature. For example, allowing the use of cyber warfare to preempt a traditional violent conflict. Additionally these principles allow for dispensing with military and civilian classifications as each entity is judged individually on its contributions towards the flourishing or the amplification of entropy within the Infosphere. It should also be noted that entities within the Infosphere have the moral duty of removing or stopping entities that cause entropy (evil) and may only act to restore the Infosphere re-establishing the status quo without generating more entropy than is being removing.


Through her article, Taddeo sought to bridge the ontological gap that emerged when attempting to reconcile the realities of information warfare with Just War Theory in order to establish the ethical principles for Just Information Warfare extending the “scope of the moral scenario to include non-physical and nonhuman agents and patients”.33Mariarosaria Taddeo. 2014. “Just Information Warfare.” Topoi 35(1):223. This was accomplished by identifying the transversal nature of information warfare as a consequence of the information revolution, the resulting ontological hiatus, and then a possible solution which ascribes a basic information value and moral status to both human and nonhuman actants within an Infosphere governed by the three principles of Just Information Warfare.

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