COMMENTARY: The presumption and loss of innocence

by Dec 16, 2019OPINIONS





This will be the last printed edition of the Cherokee One Feather for 2019. Scott McKie Brings Plenty has been at the One Feather for over 20 years and many of those years has put together the stories, advertisements, public announcements, and photos, and assembled those into a printable version of what you know as the weekly newspaper. Scott created the layout template and has won North Carolina Press Association awards for what has become the look of the One Feather. His expertise in this area is unmatched. 

This week, his talents were put to the test. Since much of our data is stored on tribal servers, the One Feather, along with many other tribal programs, lost access to information necessary to perform their daily tasks. The One Feather templates and the programs we typically use to produce the paper were and are inaccessible for the foreseeable future. While the Tribe’s Information Technology department is working diligently and feverously, repairs are being prioritized to essential services and restoring the network, as it should be. As one colleague within our government stated, “we are in uncharted territory”.

Slowly, we are finding ways to work around the damage done by the “cyberattack” that, according to the charges filed in Cherokee Court, occurred on Dec. 7. It is an interesting irony that this crippling attack on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians occurred on the anniversary of one of the most infamous attacks in world history. 

Scott has recreated the template from memory, and, if you are reading this in print, it is due to his considerable talent. 

We have had previous discussions about the need for governmental focus on Information Technology. All our tribal services and economic development depend on a strong, fast, broad, and secure IT structure. To their credit, the staff of the IT department have been very diligent in implementing security and educating end users about the threats that exist from outside cyber-attackers. Unfortunately, according to the most currently available information, it looks like this attack was from within our own ranks of tribal employees or, at least, attackers were able to get inside the system with tribal credentials. 

We know that IT has protocols to somewhat protect attacks from occurring from the inside, because when any employee terminates from EBCI, one of the first responsibilities of that employee’s supervisor is to notify IT to terminate their access to all things electronic. 

It will likely be weeks before we know the full extent of the security breach. It will likely be months before we hear the full story, and details of what happened and, hopefully, why. Then again, we may never know exactly. 

We have had well-meaning folks make comments on social media making comparisons to other, city or state-wide cyber-attacks. With due respect to all, no one in the public knows enough about this breach to give meaningful projections or advise on solutions. The best thing we can do for our leadership, IT department, and the hundreds of public servants attempting to provide services under extreme conditions, is to support them with our encouragement and patience. 

I picked up on something else on our social media page and that is there are those of us out there that may be rushing to judgement regarding the person suspected of causing the cyber-attack. Assumption of innocence is something we struggle with individually and as a people. When we post an arrest report, we also post a statement to remind those who read it that a person has a right to the presumption of innocence until they have received a trial and a judgment, either from a judge or jury of their peers. I know it is hard to hear the summary of charges and evidence against a suspect and not jump to the conclusion of guilt or innocence, but that is what we need to do. Trying one of our community members in the court of public opinion is unfair and ugly. We simply don’t know enough to about what happened and who did it to condemn anyone. 

It is easy to look at the damage and be angry. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, in essence, has been violated. If it were some lost of data, possibly some equipment replacement, and some employees inconvenienced, we might be able to laugh about it later. It was much more. Essential services, like 911, were compromised to a point that it is taking hours, days, and months to resolve. The public that we all serve could be negatively impacted because of this loss. And when you experience loss at that magnitude, you want someone to hold accountable. You want vengeance.

But, we are a society of justice, not vengeance. And justice demands that, in the case of this suspect or any other, that we allow the courts to determine guilt or innocence.