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The Use of Mythic Narratives in Presidential Rhetoric on Cybercrime

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Published onAug 01, 2017
The Use of Mythic Narratives in Presidential Rhetoric on Cybercrime


What politicians say about crime matters, both because of the impact their rhetoric has on public opinion and the policies and motives those words often portend. This is no different when presidents speak about the relatively new area of technocrime. As with other types of crime, political rhetoric on technocrime relies on previous social constructions of the problem, which are (in part) based on myths rooted in popular culture. These myths can be used to help forward political agendas in ways that may be useful to the politician, but that do not address the causes or effects of technocrime. Using ethnographic content analysis, we examine presidential speeches on technocrime, specifically cybercrime, for reliance on mythic narratives, a set of characteristics including threats to common values, the construction of a hero, the existence of innocent victims, and reliance on a deviant population. Our findings indicate that presidents often rely on mythic narratives in their speeches regarding cybercrime. This reliance can best be understood through the lens of securitization, which allows presidents to use myths to further their security agendas.


Cybercrime has become an increasingly large part of the public discourse of crime and criminal justice and has recently started entering the legal lexicon as well (Wall, 2011). This has occurred despite the amorphous nature of the term “cybercrime” and the lack of technical understanding of policymakers and a significant part of society more broadly regarding the issue (Brenner, 2011). The reasons for the increasing attention are centered in the public’s ever-broadening uses of technology, as well as more deep-seeded social issues surrounding the fear that new technology raises (Thierer, 2013; Wall, 2011). While rooted in the science fiction of the early 1970s, this fear has come to dominate significant parts of the contemporary discourse surrounding cybercrimes (Wall, 2011).

As the public conversation invariably involves political elements, so too does cybercrime and its presentation by politicians and other authorities (Cavelty, 2013). David S. Wall (2011) pointed out that when pressed for an answer to why dramatic or impactful events happen, politicians are often quick to point to “the Internet” as the reason without significant causal justification. This is perhaps even truer when referencing crimes that use the Internet or other technology as part of the crime itself, and the responses to them has been additional public fear (Lewis & Fox, 2001). While increasing the public’s overall feeling of security, politicians can often use this fear to assist in furthering their political agendas, precisely because the issues they reference are not well-understood (Altheide, 2006; Potter & Potter, 2001). Thus, it is important to examine political responses to cybercrime, as these responses often drive public fear and the policy responses to that fear (Cavelty, 2008, 2013). These responses can be used to link subjects that are not necessarily linked—like cybercrime and national security (Cavelty, 2013; Hill & Marion, 2016). In some cases, these responses have gone as far as to help develop moral panics (Bowman-Grieve, 2015; Hawdon, 2001; Levi, 2009). Presidents, in particular, have a unique role in terms of their responses to crime. As the most visible public figure in American politics, and one of the most visible political figures worldwide, presidents’ statements are often covered by both the news and social media. This coverage can have a significant impact on public opinions regarding crime and criminal justice issues (Hill, Oliver, & Marion, 2010), and can help shape the discourse regarding these crimes within society writ large (Howdon, 2001).

This paper examines questions of how presidents speak about the issue of cybercrime through an examination of mythic narratives within presidential speeches on cybercrime. The analysis is rooted in the historical development of “cybercrime” as a specific type of public crime myth, and the use of elements within that myth by Presidents Clinton, Bush (George W. Bush), and Obama in their rhetoric about cybercrime. Specifically, using an ethnographic content analysis (ECA), we examine elements of criminal justice myth derived from Kappeler and Potter (2005) and Bottici (2010) showing that these myths are often used by presidents to further fear, although their use differs across administrations and time.

Technocrime and cybercrime

There is a good deal of consternation regarding the terminology surrounding cybercrime and technocrime (Brenner, 2011; Hill & Marion, 2016; Leman-Langlois, 2013; Sheptycki, 2013; Steinmetz, 2015). Debates about what term is appropriate stem from the difficulty of defining specifically which crimes constitute “cybercrime” versus “computer crimes” as well as fundamental disagreements over what constitutes activities like “hacking” within the realm of technocrime (Steinmetz, 2015). These debates are important to assist in defining the scope of academic inquiry, but in the public mind, “cybercrime” has become the most widely used term, and hacking the focus of much attention (Brenner, 2011; Hill & Marion, 2016; Wall, 2008, Yar, 2013). Because of the ubiquity of the use of the term cybercrime in particular within presidential speech, this analysis makes use of that term while acknowledging that more accurate terms like technocrime would be more appropriate.

Despite our use of the term cybercrime, we cannot proceed without understanding the social underpinning of how cybercrime came into the presidential discourse, and how this is intimately linked with the social understanding of the idea of “cyber.” There exists a kind of dualism of cultural technophobia and technological salvation in relation to cyber issues, which is played out in presidential use of mythic narratives about cybercrime. While we can trace much of this back to the development of the “hacker” mythos in popular culture (Skibell, 2002; Steinmetz, 2015; Wall, 2011), politicians and other interested parties have attempted to securitize the discourse surrounding cybercrime in the method described by the Copenhagen School (Hansen & Nissenbaum, 2009).

One of the elements of the securitization perspective of the Copenhagen School is that types of security discourse contain their own “grammar” (Hansen & Nissenbaum, 2009). In the case of cyber security, the grammar is one that does not characterize specific referents to “cyber security” (e.g., the nation), but instead is a grammar that cuts across referents, tying them together. In some respects, this is in line with the perspective of Foucault, as articulated by Skibell (2002), but also corresponds directly to the speeches of presidents. This link happens primarily through the articulation of how threats within the mythic narrative framework are described and the “evil” characters who will carry out this threat. For example, linking hackers and terrorists regularly in political rhetoric serves to underscore how these mythic narratives function, and how the grammar of cybersecurity functions to make sense of the elements of mythic narratives. In some respects, the entire myth of cybercrime is predicated on these cross-cutting rhetorical elements as the regular pairing of cybercrime with national security issues show (Cavelty, 2013; Hill & Marion, 2016).

Effectively, the spaces of politics, popular culture, and political discourse work in tandem to define cybercrime in specific, securitized ways, and mythic narratives are the threads that weave the popular and political together. Within the popular cultural context identified by Skibell (2002) and Wall (2011), hackers, as the cultural representatives of cybercrime, develop certain deviant characteristics, and perhaps more saliently, develop in terms of their seeming ability to affect all parts of society. This narrative can help shape the perceptions of cybercrime not just for the general public, but for political elites as well, and certainly helps shape the ways in which presidents can speak to the public about issues like cybercrime.

Presidents themselves have an effect on the public through their speech and have regularly used this in relation to crime (Brace & Hinkley, 1992; Denton &Hahn, 1986; Eshbaugh-Soha, 2004; Firchild & Webb, 1985). Cybercrime, though more recent, has also been a topic of presidential rhetoric, and presidents have often linked it with security issues salient to their agendas (Hill & Marion, 2016). Given their ability to help shape public opinion, and even to help shape moral panics (Hawdon, 2001), examination of presidential discourse is important to understanding the place of cybercrime in both the popular and political landscapes.

Leman-Langlois (2008) also pointed out that the specific discourse surrounding cybercrime matters. When the president speaks of “DNS attacks” and “bot-nets,” it technologizes the language in a way that makes it sound first, more technically difficult than it may be, and second, as if there is objective certainty about what constitutes a crime in cyberspace. This type of language is perhaps most evident in the recent “aggravated identity theft” charge against the hacker Guccifer for “unauthorized access to a protected computer” (Bayly, 2016, n.p.) involving the release of private information publically. While certainly a crime, the “aggravated” element of identity theft is far from clear—as is the presence of identity theft to begin with.

Ironically, in speeches and other statements, presidents rely on the fear that cybercrimes have helped to create in the already transparently insecure atmosphere of late modernity (Young, 2007). In essence, they rely on “the critical flaws of late modern society, the fragility of its technological structure, the unknown consequences of the deep demographic and social changes it had triggered and the general insecurity it has failed to alleviate” (Leman-Langlois, 2008, p. 4). This is relatable because of the space technology has come to occupy in late modern society—that is to say, nearly all of it. It is also supported by the constant reiteration of the danger of cyberspace within popular culture and political discourse (Hansen & Nissenbaum, 2009). Fractures in the way we see technology, like those presented by cybercrimes in films, create fractures in our very reality, which is itself defined by those technologies.

Myths then, both popular and political, are important constituent elements of our understanding of cybercrime (Skibell, 2002; Wall, 2011). While these myths arise in the context of the development of the cultural understanding of hacking, and cybercrime more broadly, they have significant impact on the political discourse as well, with the combination of cybercrime myths being coupled with mythic narratives presidents use in furthering their agenda. One way to characterize the use of these myths is through an expansion of the framework of mythic narratives (Griffin & Miller, 2008; Sicafuse & Miller, 2010, 2012), which themselves can be couched in the literature on symbolic rhetoric and policy.

Symbolic rhetoric has been defined as the communication by political actors to others for a purpose, in which the specific object referred to conveys a larger meaning, typically with emotional, oral, or psychological impact (for which) this larger meaning need not be independently or factually true, but will tap ideas people want to believe in as true. (Hinckley, 1990, p. 7)

This integrates and makes the elements of mythic narrative useful to political actors. Thus, the symbolic rhetoric of the president can influence society by calling on myths already present within society. These, when applied to crime, can be used by presidents for a variety of political purposes, including garnering support for his or her security agenda, claims-making about a new issue, or even helping to generate moral panics (Hawdon, 2001).

This process is not straightforward. As Esch (2010) states, “the process of layering meaning over a narrative is complex and contested; it mythologizes the narrative so that it holds shared significance for a group” (p. 357). This meaning-making process, and the evocative nature of myths within popular culture that are relied upon in presidential rhetoric, often require multiple techniques in order to become useful at moving forward an agenda (Socia & Brown, 2016). Presidents can use symbolic rhetoric that relies on a securitization grammar as a tool of mythic narrative to achieve a policy goal, either tangible or symbolic.

Consequently, while couched in symbolic rhetoric, presidents often rely on mythic narratives to evoke a reaction from the public (Edelman, 1975). There are four elements within mythic narratives, which allow both their identification within any given discourse as well as for examination of how each contributes to a myth (Bottici, 2010; Kappeler & Potter, 2004). Briefly, these are a deviant population, a hero, a threat to social norms, and the presence of innocent victims. The way these elements constitute themselves in the context of presidential discourse on cybercrime is unique, and in some ways, paradoxical.

The analysis below examines these four elements across three presidents in order to better understand how the elements of myth are used in political discourses on cybercrime. The analytical framework assumes that symbolic rhetoric is the overarching concept, in which presidents make use of mythic narratives to further their policy agenda or inspire action within society. This, in turn, can make use of, or sometimes help generate, moral panics in the realm of technology—more specifically, technopanics, to use Therier’s (2013) language. The symbolic language used within cybercrime rhetoric relies on the grammar of securitization in order to make the elements of mythic narrative useful for furthering the President’s political agenda. This reflects the process identified by McLeod (1999, p.360), “… political rhetoric in modern cultural contexts are designed and organized events … and orchestrated for quantitative effects. The process … is nothing less than symbolic manipulation by design, playing on deeply held beliefs in the electorate.”



The American Presidency Project (2015) was the primary source for the speeches made by presidents regarding cybercrime, which maintains an online, searchable database of presidential papers, including presidential speeches. As the goal of the project was to explore the use of presidential rhetoric on cybercrime though the lens of mythic narratives, presidential speeches were the unit of analysis.

Searching for instances of cybercrime is difficult since many countries and organizations use different definitions to define these acts (Wall, 2008). Moreover, the term is sometimes used interchangeably with terms such as “computer-related crime,” “technocrime,” and “computer crime.” This only serves to cause more confusion among the public, though there is little reason to believe it is better when politicians use the terms (Gordon & Ford, 2006; Kshetri, 2013; Wall, 2011; Yar 2013). The matter gets yet more complicated when terms like “cyberterrorism” and “cyber-attack” are used. These terms, in particular “cyberterrorism,” are equally amorphous as the term “cybercrime,” and are often used in conjunction with it (Cavelty, 2007; Hill & Marion, 2016; Wall, 2011). However, recent scholarship has stated that regardless of the accuracy of the term, “cybercrime” has become the accepted terminology (Wall, 2011). To that end, in the current analysis, the term cybercrime was construed to include illegal activity conducted over the Internet or other networked systems. Thus, the study includes rhetoric about a wide variety of criminal activity ranging from child pornography to so-called cyberterrorism.

It is important to note that this includes some threats that are traditionally linked to national security rather than criminality. Though we focus on rhetoric regarding criminality, we did not exclude speeches that focus primarily on national security. This is because the two areas have been linked in past speeches, and presidents do not often draw bright lines between the two (Hill & Marion, 2016). Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, this analysis shows that presidents often group technologically complex issues, some related to cybercrime and some not, together under the rubric of “cyber.”

As such, the search term “cyber” was used to find presidential speeches on cybercrime. This generated a large number of results and captured a large number of the speeches given by presidents involving issues ranging from cybercrime to cyberbullying. More specific search terms such as “Internet,” “online,” or “identity theft” were then used to find speeches that dealt with cyber issues that did not include the prefix “cyber.” This captured speeches on those topics and others such as Internet predators, Internet pornography, or Internet stalking.

The original search, which generated results from the years 1995-2015, returned 491 cases. The first years of Clinton’s term was excluded based on the fact that he did not speak substantively on cybercrime before 1995, and the last year of Obama’s term was excluded based on the date of original data collection (early 2016). Many of the speeches in the original sample were references to elements outside the issues addressed in this study (cybernetics, for instance), and some were given by presidential staff rather than by the president himself, which reduced the original number of speeches to 380. Rhetoric that was formulaic in nature, like proclamations, fact-sheets, and statements of administration policy were also eliminated, as were statements by administrative representatives rather than presidents, reducing the sample to 209 speeches.

This sample was further reduced by subsampling among the three presidents who have thus far spoken about cybercrime: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. As the data did not present a specific pattern of speeches based on the first read-through, speeches were randomly selected for coding—25 from each president for a total of 75 speeches.

Analytical methodology

The method of analysis used to examine the data is ethnographic content analysis (ECA). ECA is an inductive approach to qualitative data, allowing both for theoretical sampling of the data, as well as a recursively constructed codebook (Altheide, 1996). In the current case, ECA was used to help identify elements of mythic narrative and how they were being used within the context of presidential rhetoric. While the basic four parts of mythic narratives served as the original basis for the coding scheme, other elements were quickly identified as sub-themes, including the type of actors identified as deviant, types of heroes, and the ways in which threats to society were presented.

Symbolic rhetoric, mythic narratives, and moral panics

Moral panics have become an increasingly contested part of the criminological literature (David, Rohloff, Petley, & Hughes, 2011). Arguments over what constitutes a moral panic, and which moral panics are worthy of study, are consistently being rehashed within the literature (Cohen, 2011; Young, 2011). However, despite this contestation, and arguably because of it (David, Rohloff, Petley, & Hughes, 2011), the concept of moral panics has been used fruitfully in a variety of areas, including those examining the role of presidential rhetoric in their genesis (Hawdon, 2001). It is therefore worth noting the relationship posited regarding symbolic rhetoric, mythic narratives, and moral panics.

There are obvious and strong relationships between the concept of mythic narratives and the concept of moral panics, particularly in regards to the deviant population and threats to conventional values, but they are not identical. One way to conceptualize the difference between the two is that while moral panic is largely a reaction by the public to a perceived issue (Cohen, 1972), mythic narrative is a structured response to a moral panic, and may contribute to its continuation. In short, they have a symbiotic relationship: Moral panics rely on mythic narratives, and mythic narratives are often used in the context of moral panics (Griffin & Miller, 2008; Kappeler & Potter, 2004). Specifically, mythic narratives convey the crucial beliefs of a social group or society in an emotionally effective way and may not be associated with actual policies (Bottici, 2010). In the sense that political actors can operate both to create myths and communicate them, presidents seem to qualify as media and as mythmaker.

Mythic narratives function in the context of symbolic rhetoric, though they can be used to motivate specific policies—sometimes effective, sometimes not (Griffin & Miller, 2010). While there has been much research on the uses and functions of symbolic rhetoric in criminal justice and criminology (Hill & Marion, 2016; Oliver, 2001; Oliver, Marion & Hill, 2016; Stoltz, 1985), there have not been many attempts to examine what elements within symbolic speech are being used by presidents, nor a model proposed of how these elements function to change public behavior. The general framework here is that mythic narratives operate through the grammar of securitization, which serves to bridge the gap between the symbolic rhetoric of crime and the specific context of cybercrime.

The four elements of mythic narrative can operate independently from one another, but often operate in tandem when those speaking are relying directly on crime myths to motivate specific policy changes—through the process of securitization. The examination below looks at how presidential rhetoric makes use of the elements of mythic narrative through an ECA approach to presidential speeches. Specifically, it examines each of the elements of mythic narrative within presidential speeches to see how they change both in terms of their use across administrations and over time, and then examines how we can make sense of mythic narratives of cybercrime through the lens of Hansen and Nissenbaum’s (2009) cybersecuritization.


The findings of the study can be broadly broken into two parts. First, the examination of the different elements of mythic narrative is undertaken with an emphasis on contextual understanding of the use of each. Second, an examination across presidents is extrapolated from the data in an attempt to track how different political actors across different administrations have used mythic narratives of cybercrime to further their interests.

Contextualizing the speeches

One of the primary concerns of ECA is making sure that there is an understanding of, and sensitivity to, how the material being studied is constructed. In the current context, that of presidential speeches, it is therefore important to understand that speeches are used differently, and rhetoric differs, depending on the audience (Ragsdale, 1987; Teten, 2003). The speeches examined in this analysis ranged in terms of both their focus on cybercrime—with several mentioning the topic as simply an adjoining problem to things like terrorism or attacks on children—and their audience. The total number of speeches that talked about cybercrime or cybersecurity, by president, can be seen in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Total number of speeches, by president


Number of speeches







As can be seen in Table 1, the number of speeches containing the topic of cybercrime was not evenly distributed among the presidents; nor does it correlate directly with the development and increasing use of the Internet and network technology. One potential reason is that the focus of the Bush administration was drawn out of the realm of “cyber” and into the “real world” with the many issues surrounding terrorism at the time, and Bush’s reliance on it as a policy-motivating issue (Altheide, 2006).

Within speeches, there was also an uneven distribution of rhetoric regarding cybercrime. Those speeches that tended to contain much of the rhetoric were either on the occasions of signing a law that the president felt somehow dealt with cybercrime or to agencies that were specifically tasked with fighting cybercrime. The latter tended to be the most rhetorically rich in terms of gaining understanding of how presidents dealt with cybercrime, but even those speeches with short mentions often shed light on how cybercrime was being used as a tool by different administrations. This was accomplished through both what was coupled with cybercrime rhetoric, and frequently, what types of “attacks” or actors were thought of as threatening.

As can be seen in Table 2 below, the number of quotations regarding the four elements of mythic narrative in the sample varied, with President Obama having (by far) the most quotations across the four dimensions. However, in part, that may be because the speeches sampled for Obama were directed more towards those geared towards cybercrime and national security than Bush or Clinton. All told, given the sampling methodology and the focus on the development of the elements of mythic narrative, rather than the counts of quotations or speeches, the relative number is only informative insofar as it contextualizes the analysis below.

Table 2. Mentions of the elements of the mythic narratives in speeches, by president


Deviant population


Innocent victims

Threat to established values





















A deviant population

The first criterion of mythic narratives refers to the existence of a “deviant population” (Kappeler & Potter, 2004). This population, because of cultural, religious and other differences, are labeled as “deviant” and can become targets for negative rhetoric, instigating fear in people. In this research, deviant populations appeared 73 times in 75 speeches, though some speeches contained more than a single instance of deviant populations. For example, in remarks on May 5, 2000, President Clinton argued: “[Because of the internet] You will see, more and more, drug cartels, organized criminals, gunrunners, terrorists working together.”

As mentioned above, elements of mythic narrative within cybercrime can be used within a securitization framework to increase their salience (Cavelty, 2008, 2013; Hansen & Nissenbaum, 2009). This is clear from the identifications made between the presidential references to cybercrime and criminals committing other acts. While most of these references were to issues of national security—comporting well with Hill and Marion (2016)—some were in reference to other criminal issues, like gangs, drugs, and organized crime. The rhetorical suggestion is that cybercrime is amorphous—that it does not have a specific nature or link to a specific type of illicit activity (Ohm, 2007). This vague definition can make it useful for policy-makers to help forward a security agenda (Cavelty, 2008).

Within this context, the persona of the “hacker” takes on greater importance. While hackers have been defined in multiple ways (Steinmetz, 2015; Wall, 2011; Yar, 2013), what is notable in the presidential rhetoric regarding cybercrime is the often-undefined nature of the hacker. Because hacking is considered an activity that bridges any kind of illicit online activity, hackers become divorced from the skill they have and are instead thought of as a complete criminal category that may do anything illicit. As Yar (2013) said, “for many people cybercrime and hacking have become synonymous” (Chapter 2, Section 2, para. 1), which links hackers ineluctably to cybercrime, and this is reflected in presidential speeches. It is perhaps most clearly seen in rhetoric by presidents about the nearly omnipotent nature that hackers are thought to have. For example, President Clinton on January 7, 2000 stated,

I want to talk just a moment about steps we are taking today to defend our citizens from those who would use cyberspace to do us harm. There has never been a time like this in which we have the power to create knowledge and the power to create havoc, and both those powers rest in the same hands ... Yet, someone can sit at the same computer, hack into a computer system and potentially paralyze a company, a city, or a government.

This quote shows both the moral ambiguity seen in the online environment itself, but more importantly in terms of rhetorical conceptualizations of hackers, it demonstrates the near omnipotence that s/he is seen to have—the power to create or destroy at will—a position supported by earlier literature on perspectives of hackers (Ohm, 2007).

Because the hacker is amorphous, the concept is useful to presidents when linked with other topics, and presidents take advantage of this (Hill & Marion, 2016). Often, for instance, hacking is linked to other forms of criminality, particularly to drug cartels, organized crime, and terrorism. This, coupled with the omnipotent nature of the hacker in presidential rhetoric, positions her in some respects as the ultimate criminal in late modernity, and takes advantage of the perception of technology as potentially threatening (Taylor, 1999).

This portrait of hackers as the ultimate criminal archetype comports well with earlier literature (Wall, 2011). It also shows the reliance on popular cultural myths by presidents regarding their views on cybercrime (Halbert, 1997; Yar 2013). Indeed, President Clinton was explicit in this reliance, stating in an interview on January 21, 1999 that,

I also find that reading novels, futuristic novels—sometimes people with an imagination are not wrong ... And then I read another book about a group of terrorists shutting down the telephone networks in the Northeast and the Midwest ... and a lot of times it's just for thrills, but a lot of times these people [authors of science fiction] are not far off.

While this demonstrates the influence of social science fiction (Wall, 2011) on President Clinton specifically, it is likely that other presidents were influenced as well.

Other deviant populations

While hackers are the most frequently referenced specific category of cybercriminals within presidential rhetoric, they are not always cited by presidents. Often, the type of crime is referenced in relation to the Internet. So, the use of the Internet by pre-existing categories of criminals—drug runners, cartels, organized crime, child pornographers—constitutes a significant portion of the mentions of cybercriminals within presidential rhetoric. These mentions, however, most frequently reference the use of technology as a tool for the groups rather than as the medium used within a given incident. On July 8th, President Clinton, stated,

In fact, all of the openness, the communications revolution, what all you can find on the Internet, all of the things that have given so much opportunity in the world and brought us so much closer together have created a new vulnerability to the organized forces of destruction, to the terrorists, the organized criminals, and the narcotraffickers.

This relies on a slightly different conception of the deviant populations as already existing. The Internet, and technology more generally, is referenced as a tool for those who are already engaged in some kind of illicit activity. This can be using networks to better coordinate activity, or for finding information that can be of assistance in offline activity—bomb-making instructions were consistently referenced by President Clinton, for instance.

Cybercriminals—a portmanteau enemy

In total, hackers are frequently referenced in presidential rhetoric as nearly omnipotent, ineluctably criminal technology users who engage in a variety of illicit online activity. They are most often coupled with other forms of criminality, underlying both their dangerousness and their amorphous nature. Cybercriminals are often situated as a threat to the general moral order, often manifested through targeting innocent victims—the subject of the next section. On the other hand, non-hacking cybercriminals are almost always a pre-existing reference group with already deviant identities. They, rather than use the internet or other networks as an instrument to carry out cybercrimes, use it as a tool to enhance their already existing illicit activities. They are not, however, seen as simple extensions of the previous criminal types. For instance, President Obama (2015), remarked, “We want cyber criminals to feel the full force of American justice, because they are doing as much damage, if not more, these days as folks who are involved in more conventional crime,” thus demonstrating the conceptual independence of cybercriminality from general crime.

Perhaps the best way to conceive of cybercriminals in presidential rhetoric is as a portmanteau enemy. A portmanteau is a combination of two words to create a third containing elements of both reference words. Similarly, when referencing deviant populations in terms of cybercrime, presidents rely on existing categories—hackers and other pre-existing deviant populations—to create multiple types of cybercriminals ranging from cyberterrorists to online identity thieves that threaten both societal values and innocent victims.

The presence of innocent victims

The second criterion to define mythic narratives is the presence of “innocent” or “helpless” victims. Three of the most likely victims in the literature are children, pregnant women, and the elderly, because they garner high levels of sympathy from the public (Miko & Miller, 2010). Mythic narratives encompass the idea that the more innocent a population affected by a crime myth, the more likely people will support the crime myth targeting “deviant populations” hurting “helpless” victims. Statements focused on victimization appeared 75 times in the presidential speeches examined. President Bush’s remarks in 2012 were exemplary of this kind of victimization, where he said, “in the hands of incredibly wicked people, the Internet is a tool that lures children into real danger.”

Innocent victims

In general, there were several types of victims presented by presidents in their rhetoric, only some of which fit the classic example of innocence. Children, as seen in the quotation above, were often the subject of this rhetoric in two ways. The first, as potential victims of online pornography, is interesting because it does not fit the traditional definitions of cybercrime, though accessing pornography below the age of 18 is considered a crime in nearly all jurisdictions (Yar, 2013). This was a constant concern of Presidents Clinton and Bush, who frequently referenced the need to protect children from pornography. A second way in which children needed to be protected from cybercriminality, and are thus presented as victims, is from exploitation, including online child pornography (as part of the content, rather than the issue of access), and recruitment by terrorist and other extremist organizations. This is frequently coupled with announcements of how the government (and frequently, the private sector), is working to protect the children from exploitation, lending itself to the presentation of government as heroic. In fact, it was frequently difficult to differentiate the heroic elements of “saving” victims—or empowering people to save them—from the rhetorical elements focusing on threats to the existing social order.

One of the easiest places to identify this coupling was within the context of child-victimization. While the type of victimization presented changed across administrations, it was always presented in concert with the government providing either direct protection, or support for parents in protecting their children. President Bush, on October 23, 2002, provided an excellent example of the latter type of statement, saying, “Share your experience with your children. Make it clear to your children about the potential online dangers they face. Make it clear to them the kinds of web sites they need to avoid.”

Other groups that require special protection are also featured in presidential rhetoric about cybercrime. Notably, the elderly in regards to fraud schemes and the infirm through the threats to “healthcare systems,” though these tended to be subsumed by the second category of victimization—general victimization.

General victimization

Within presidential speeches, the rhetorical presentation of a general victimization was used more often than the presentation of an “innocent” victim. This was sometimes couched within the language of groups, like “consumers” or “businesses,” with the implication that everyone is a potential victim. One example of this type of presentation was by President Obama in a January 2015 address where he remarked, “so this [connectivity that was being taken advantage of by cybercriminals] is a direct threat to the economic security of American families, not just the economy overall, and to the well-being of our children”.

A different mode of rhetorical presentations of victims involved elements in our infrastructure—often banking or other financial institutions. However, oftentimes the specific victim, or category of victim, was not named. Rather, presidents relied on a generalized threat to everyone, a construction which itself relies on the fact that more and more individuals are connected to the Internet. These presentations of a generalized victimhood are closely tied to the presentation of deviant individuals as threatening social values. These underlying values focus on private industry, infrastructure (generally), or general citizenry. For example, on May 10, 2006, President Bush made remarks regarding identity theft online, saying, “Identity theft is a serious problem in America. I have just listened to the horror stories from fellow citizens who have had their identities stolen.” Here, “fellow citizens,” are an undefined category, with the implication that anyone could be affected.

Who gets victimized?

Given the rhetoric from presidents on victims within cybercrime rhetoric, there are two basic groups: the innocent and everyone. Within the innocent victims, there is a focus on the traditional groups considered innocent—children, the elderly, or the infirm (Miko & Miller, 2010). Within the generalized victimization category, there is a focus on underlying structures, and private industry is one of the consistent victims. This is of note as they also play a role in the element of “hero” within mythic narratives of cybercrime, and are often couched as part of the institutions under threat from cybercrime.

The generalized victimization is one that is particularly interesting from a rhetorical perspective. As there is a generalized anxiety in modern society (Young, 2007), the fact of a generalized potential for victimization within presidential rhetoric is telling. Presidents have often used fear to advance their agendas, with crime creating a portion of that fear (Altheide, 2006, 2009; Hawdon, 2001), and the possibility of anyone being a victim (a discourse frequently seen in speeches on terrorism) may be seen as a way in which society itself is undermined. Additionally, crime (more generally) has also served as a way for politicians to help replace the welfare state with a security state (Beckett & Sasson, 2000), increase surveillance (Halbert, 1997), and the method by which they have done this, rhetorically speaking, is by focusing on increasing fear (Beckett & Sasson, 2000; Hawdon & Wood, 2014).

Mythic victims

In short, there are two primary representations of victims within presidential rhetoric on cybercrime. The first focuses on traditional groups of innocent victims—particularly children. The second focuses on a generalized victimhood with an emphasis on anyone’s ability to become a victim of cybercrime in the future. This second group, sometimes couched in the language of capitalism, has important implications for thinking about how presidential rhetoric shapes public fear of cybercrime. The potential for a generalized victimization underlies the idea of a threat to the country’s (and sometimes, rhetorically, the world’s) values.

The threat to established values

The third criterion for mythic narrative is the presence of a threat to established norms and values (Griffin & Miller, 2008). It is perhaps the most difficult of the elements of mythic narrative to understand, as it assumes foreknowledge of shared values within a society, and assumes—partially—that values are homogenous within societies. Politics plays an important role in characterizing public myths (Esch, 1999), and myths about cybercrime are no different in this regard. Indeed, politicians have used myths to suggest that organized crime threatening and corrupting American values is due to a massive flow of foreign minorities invading the United States in order to change immigration laws, which has moved the US from a welfare state towards a security state (Beckett & Sasson, 2000; Hawdon & Wood, 2014). Politicians have also previously used public narratives of threats to common values like hard work to persecute drug users and sellers (Hawdon, 2001).

In the context of presidential speech on cybercrime, “threats” are often posited as attacks to specific perceived foundations of American society. For instance, in remarks on May 22, 1998, President Clinton declared that, “adversaries may attempt cyberattacks against our military and our economic base”—the polis and the economy being two important institutions in which values reside (Messner & Rosenfeld, 2007). Threats to established values was the criterion most frequently used by presidents when speaking about cybercrime. It was used 128 times across all of the speeches, making it by far the most frequently used element of mythic narrative.

One interesting iteration of the threat to common values by presidents was couching cybercrime and criminality as part of warfare, itself an existential threat. For instance, President Bush in a statement on March 3, 2006, stated, “Today, our nations [India and the United States] are cooperating closely on critical areas like ... cyber security … America and India are in this war [on terrorism] together, and we will win this war together.” This narrative of warfare involving technological elements, which itself relies on a generalized threat to the country, was not limited to the Bush administration. President Clinton, too, relied on the idea of a generalized threat through technological attacks on the United States, often pairing cyber-attacks with terrorism. In a statement from March 23, 1999, President Clinton stated,

And the darkest nightmare—I told you my happy dream for the future—the darkest nightmares of the future are the marriage of modern technology and primitive hatred, because terrorists can figure out how to get on the Internet and make bombs. You can get on the Internet and figure out how to make that bomb that blew up the building in Oklahoma City.

This statement about generalized threats is somewhat exemplary of the dual nature that technology represents in presidential discourse on cybercrime. The idea that these technological threats—and cybercrime specifically—can be dealt with through the means that created them, is a consistent theme throughout the rhetoric examined in this analysis. But there is a suggestion by presidents that technology itself is a threatening factor. In the statement above, primitive hatred by itself is not enough to constitute a nightmare, it is only its marriage to technology—notably non-specific—that makes it truly dark.

This is well in line with our understanding of issues of cybercrime as suggested by Therier (2013), Yar (2013), and Wall (2008). It also suggests that, in some ways, presidents consider the development of technology as part of the threat to society itself, though it is very frequently tempered by positive elements of technological developments, in terms of presidential rhetoric. This idea is linked to the moral ambivalence that is often referred to by presidents in relation to technology. In their assessment of threats, presidents often refer to the positive importance of developing technology, but then very frequently immediately refer to its use to do “evil.” For example, in remarks at the Federal Trade Commission Constitution Center on January 12, 2015, President Obama said,

And with these benefits come risks: Major companies get hacked; America's personal information, including financial information, gets stolen. And the problem is growing, and it costs us billions of dollars. In one survey, 9 out of 10 Americans say they feel like they've lost control of their personal information. In recent breaches, more than a hundred million Americans have had their personal data compromised, like credit card information. When these cyber criminals start racking up charges on your card, it can destroy your credit rating. It can turn your life upside down. It may take you months to get your finances back in order. So this is a direct threat to the economic security of American families, and we've got to stop it.

This moral ambivalence, in some respects, reinforces the perception of the criminogenic nature of the Internet and technology more generally, and underlies the threat that technology represents in the public imagination (Therier, 2013). So, in the case of cybercrime, even when presidents argue that cybercrime is being successfully challenged, they are inculcating to their listeners the idea that cybercrime is still dangerous.

One interesting threat that presidents frequently addressed was the risk to privacy. While this changed over the course of the three presidencies, privacy was usually considered in juxtaposition with increases in security. Privacy has become one of the frequently referenced American ideals that are under threat from a variety of locales (e.g., the government itself, private industry), and there is a recognition of this within presidential rhetoric, with presidents often noting the threats to privacy that individuals face, as well as their responsibility to protect it. Often, however, threats to privacy were couched within conversations about technology itself, emphasizing the increasing interconnectivity as a potential threat to both privacy and security. For example, in remarks on February 29, 2016, President Obama said,

If we are trying to track a network that is planning to carry out attacks in New York or Berlin or Paris, and they are communicating primarily in cyberspace, and we have the capacity to stop an attack like that, but that requires us then being able to operate within that cyberspace, how do we make sure that we're able to do that, carry out those functions, while still meeting our core principles of respecting the privacy of all our people?

In short, the threats posed by technology, and cybercrime more specifically, are presented as the necessary correlate of technological development itself. The moral ambivalence of the Internet is frequently referenced, and the other elements of mythic narrative are linked with Internet use deemed to be negative (e.g., terrorists finding bomb plans online). Specific threats tend to be towards generalized normative morality (e.g., threats towards children’s “innocence”) or towards specific institutions like families, or notably, the economy, though there is a concern about maintaining the institution of privacy within the protection of other institutions.

The creation of a hero

The fourth and final criterion follows Stroud’s (2001) idea of the creation of a “hero.” With the development of the media, and the Internet specifically, having the community save the “innocents” and catch the “bad guys” can be a way to incorporate the listeners into the mythic narrative. With the use of mythic narratives, people are given the opportunity to be the hero and save their community (Stroud, 2001). This was common within presidential rhetoric regarding cybercrime. For instance, in 1998, President Clinton mentioned “We must give parents the tools they need to help protect their children from inappropriate material on the Internet ...” More interesting, perhaps, is the focus on the private sector as potential heroes. In remarks from 1997, President Clinton said, “I call on the private sector to help us meet one of the greatest challenges of electronic commerce, ensuring that we develop effective methods of protecting the privacy of every American, especially children who use the Internet.” This suggests, somewhat ironically, that the private sector is a potential savior for threats to security—including privacy. Named heroes, either specific individuals or groups, were found 90 times in the speeches examined. This criterion was the second most widely used by presidents.

Who are the heroes?

Governmental heroes were often present in the rhetoric of presidents regarding cybercrime, but those heroes were often presented in different ways. An important distinction was between individually recognized heroes, often heads of agencies, and more general groups. An example of the latter came from President Obama in 2015 while at the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center. He stated,

This center is one of the critical lines of America's cyber defenses. These men and women work around the clock, 24/7, monitoring threats, issuing warnings, sharing information with the private sector, and keeping Americans safe. So as a nation, we owe them thanks ...

In addition, presidents would often credit-claim in regard to protecting society from cyber-threats. This is in line with the work of Conley (2013) on signing statements, which suggests that presidents often try to gain political capital by emphasizing their role in particular legislation that has been passed. In the case of rhetoric on cybercrime, presidents frequently employed this tactic. For example, in the 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama stated, “I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy,” clearly claiming credit for protection of three important areas of our national identity. President Bush also claimed credit for protecting society from cybercrime, as was clear in his statement on July 27, 2006 that, “We also launched Operation Predator to help law enforcement track down and arrest foreign pedophiles and human traffickers and sex tourists and Internet pornographers who prey on our children.” These types of statements place the president and their administration in the role of hero and the protectors of the potential victims of devious cybercriminals, and allow them to capitalize on the credit they receive for the protection.

The evolution of the cybercrime myth

Use of all four elements of mythic narrative was apparent in presidential rhetoric, though occasionally not in the ways traditionally used in other crime myths. Unsurprisingly, the use of the mythic elements was closely tied together in rhetoric, with recognizable deviant populations presenting threats to values through examples of victimization, and heroes, in whatever form, providing protection from future threats. This underlies the idea that what is being developed in the context of presidential rhetoric is, in fact, a complete myth regarding technocrime, rather than presidents simply relying on a single mythic element.

While the findings regarding the specific elements of mythic narrative, and within specific presidencies, are interesting, perhaps the most helpful way to interpret these findings is across all presidencies as a specific narrative arc regarding cybercrime. This narrative arc, embraced by presidents in their rhetoric, is contextualized within developing technology and popular conceptions of the hacker and “cyberspace.” The arc presented represents the influence and development of existing myths and the discourse of the securitization of cybercrime.

Existing myths

In 2011, David S. Wall published an article focused on how science fiction has influenced the development of the production of knowledge about cybercrime. In it, he traces the development of specific myths about cybercrime and where they stem from in popular culture—with a particular emphasis on movies featuring hackers. Specifically, Wall (2011) identified seven myths regarding cybercrime, “cybercrime is dramatic; the internet is unsafe and criminogenic; hackers are all powerful ‘bad guys’; hackers have become part of organized crime; hackers are anonymous ... individual users need to be protected” (p. 868).

While each of these myths is clearly embodied in the above analysis examining presidential rhetoric, the focus on the development of the science fiction(s) of cybercrime is even more telling. Presidents have roughly tracked the same trajectory that Wall (2011) identified regarding the depiction of hackers/hacking in popular films. Most salient is the movement from what Wall terms second generation haxploitation movies, based around the hacking of different types of virtualized environments (e.g., Swordfish), to third-generation haxploitation movies, where increasingly networked technology comes to define a space where both hacker and hack exist together (e.g., The Matrix).

This movement, in some senses, embodies the movement from getting to doing things online. The development in terms of rhetoric is perhaps best exemplified with regards to presidential rhetoric about cyberterrorism. President Clinton, especially early in his presidency, often spoke about the issue of terrorists retrieving information on how to make bombs or spread ideology online. This can be contrasted with the idea of terrorist online recruiting, seen in President Obama’s remarks on February 8, 2015, “The use of social media, terrorist Twitter accounts—it's all designed to target today's young people online, in cyberspace.”

The salient difference between those two approaches is what “space” the interaction occurs in. In the first instance, terrorists are leaving information to be found by others on the Internet, but there is little interaction. One can leave information and one can retrieve information. The danger in the transaction is the information. In the latter case, the interaction is the danger, and that interaction happens in cyberspace. These reflect the social science fiction understanding of the development of technology as a space, and the subsequent dangers that development represents (Wall, 2011).

While the completion of this development is most clearly seen in comparison between Clinton and Obama, the changes were already happening within the Clinton administration. Of note was the rhetoric regarding “v-chips for computers,” which would control access to information found online, paralleling the v-chip within TVs that could limit juvenile access to specifically rated television shows. This, however, was seemingly abandoned by the end of the Clinton presidency, with focus increasingly turning towards crimes happening online—especially identity theft.

It is important to note that presidents were not just affected by this development in the public perception of cybercrime through social science fiction, but also used the myths embedded within it to further securitize the idea of cybercrime. The change in rhetoric from a focus on computers used in crime to computers used for crime was coupled with elements that were likely to increase fear. For instance, while there was regular reference in the Clinton administration to terrorists using the Internet to gain knowledge, the idea of the “urgent and growing danger of cyber threats” was used mostly in the Obama administration. This change in the myths of cybercrime and other technocrime can best be through the cybersecuritization paradigm of Hansen and Nissenbaum (2009).


Hansen and Nissenbaum (2009) examined the idea of the grammar of security in the context of “cyber” issues. They showed that several elements make cybersecurity unique in the context of securitization, including the integration of multiple, historically separate spheres of security.

Cybersecurity discourse moves seamlessly across distinctions ... between individual and collective security, between public authorities and private institutions, and between economic and political military security (Hansen & Nissenbaum, 2009, p. 1161).

This movement toward securitization is apparent in presidential rhetoric across administrations, especially through the integration of the normally distinct spheres of “private” and “public.” A quote from a speech President Obama gave on January 13, 2015 is particularly apt:

Much of our critical infrastructure—our financial systems, power grids, pipelines, health care systems—run on networks connected to the Internet. So this is a matter of public safety and of public health. And most of this infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector. So neither Government nor the private sector can defend the Nation alone. It's going to have to be a shared mission: Government and industry working hand in hand, as partners.

In addition to the integration of distinct areas of security, there is also the element of “increasing threat.” President Obama, in particular, emphasized the growing nature of the problem of cybercrime and related issues. The increasing emphasis on a requirement for action to prevent future catastrophe is a key element of the securitizing discourse and part of what has been termed hypersecuritization (Hansen & Nissenbaum, 2009).

Interestingly, however, neither President Bush nor President Clinton focused much on the growth of the “cyber threat,” though they had concerns about criminality online. President Bush, to the extent that he focused on issues related to cybercrime, spoke most frequently about cyberterrorism, which was unsurprising given his administration’s focus on terrorism and the politics of fear (Altheide, 2006). President Obama, however, spoke with regularity about the importance of focusing on growing threats in the online environment, often incorporating the elements of cybersecurity discourse that cut across both public and private spheres. One speech from President Obama on February 12, 2015 provides a good example,

America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber attacks. Now, we know hackers steal people's identities and infiltrate private e-mails. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.

This combination—of increasing threat and a lack of division between spheres of life in conjunction with the idea that we need protection drawn from popular social science fiction—leads to a situation in which citizens can be increasingly convinced of a president’s specific security agenda—in this case related to technocrime, but often linked to other forms of criminality, as examined above. This comports with previous literature suggesting that political actors use cybersecurity to advance their overall security agendas (Bowman-Grieve, 2015; Cavelty, 2008, 2013; Hill & Marion, 2016), and that creating fear can enhance their ability to achieve their goals (Altheide, 2006).

One of the most regularly occurring categories within presidential rhetoric on cybercrime was the moral ambivalence of the Internet and other technology, a position in line with the literature examining the public’s relation to technology (Ohm, 2007; Therier, 2013;). This ambivalence was manifested by presidents consistently speaking about the fact that while technology has allowed for significant development—usually framed in economic terms—it can be used by deviant others to commit crime. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was most prevalent in the speeches by Bill Clinton as the Internet was still a growing phenomenon and the scope of change offered by the Internet was perhaps not yet clear. For example, in a speech on April 26, 1999, Clinton said,

The Internet offers scientists the way to exchange information and fight disease, offers poor children the way to access libraries. It's amazing how many kids in high school now are filing research papers, and they don't have a—every single source they got, they got off the Internet. But the Internet also offers websites that glorify death, lionize Hitler, and tell teenagers to make pipe bombs. It is not a thing, in and of itself, that is good.

This moral ambivalence underlies their increasing securitization of cybercrime by presidents in their rhetoric. The implication is that, because the Internet can be, and is, used for cybercrime, that there needs to be a hero to save us from the criminogenic part of the Internet (Wall, 2011). The heroes presented are most frequently the government or a combination of the government and private sector, reinforcing the lack of traditional institutional boundaries necessary for cyber-securitization (Hansen & Nissenbaum, 2009).

While pointing to both the morally ambivalent nature of the Internet and the “increasing threat” of cybercrime, presidents also reinforced this with past incidents of cybercrime to demonstrate the potential for more significant impact in the future. President Obama did this regularly, often referring to the Sony Hack, as he did in a speech on January 13, 2015 as an example of cybercrime that portended worse in the future:

With the Sony attacks that took place, with the Twitter account that was hacked by Islamist jihadist sympathizers yesterday, it just goes to show how much more work we need to do, both public and private sector, to strengthen our cybersecurity to make sure that families' bank accounts are safe, to make sure that our public infrastructure is safe. (Obama, 2015)

This is an example of what Hansen and Nissenbaum (2009) termed “everyday security practice,” which ties individual experiences to technological threats to both ensure individuals’ participation in securing networks (either themselves or through cooperation with the security agenda), and demonstrate their link to potential disasters to make hypersecuritization more plausible (p. 1165). This type of link has been common across all presidents, but the discourse has shifted based on the plausibility of online disaster, itself based on the mythic narratives explored above. President Obama’s consistent reference to previous cyber attacks, the plausibility of future disasters, and their tie to normal individuals’ use of the Internet, is perhaps the most complete example of securitization regarding technocrime.

The idea of everyday security practices makes sense of two elements of mythic narratives explored above. The first is that everyone is a potential victim of cybercrime, thus explaining why presidents often used a generalized victimization in their approach to innocent victims. Second, by including individuals as part of those people who can assist in the fight against cybercrime through linking people to everyday security practices, they effectively recruit them as potential “heroes” within the fight against cybercrime. This has been consistent across presidents, with the public often being included in people who can assist in reducing cybercrime—particularly regarding elements like juvenile access to pornography.

At the same time that people are recruited through the grammar of everyday security practices, technification is a process whereby there is a particularly important role for experts in protecting people from harm in cyberspace. This, in the context of mythic narratives, relies on the “hero” trope. Technical heroes were common in presidential rhetoric, as mentioned above, but they were much more common in President Obama’s speeches than either President Clinton’s or President Bush’s. This, perhaps, reflects a growth in the level of securitization of cybercrime across presidents. Interestingly, presidents often used this technification to justify the entrance of the private sector into the security environment, explaining that the government could not protect citizens on its own. This reinforces both the technical experts in the private sector as heroes and the government’s position as hero as well.

Another manifestation of technification is the consistent call from presidents to have future generations of technical experts and for current law enforcement to have additional training. In reference to fraud on the Internet, President Clinton said in a speech on May 4, 1999,

I find that law enforcement, compared to people who are doing criminal activity in this area, are rather like parents trying to keep up with their children on the computer. [Laughter] It is an endless effort, and we need to organize and systematize a continuous training and retraining effort so that we can stay ahead of the curve.

The implication here is that technical expertise is the key to success, and that this expertise is beyond that of the average computer user. This is a specific kind of hero, one that is outside of the political world. This, in turn, allows the grammar of securitization within cybercrime and technocrime to seem more “apolitical,” and thus can help to legitimate the security position of the president.

All told, the grammar of securitization helps make sense of the development of the elements of mythic narratives of cybercrime within presidential rhetoric. Through hypersecuritization, everyday security practices, and technification, presidents are able to integrate the elements of mythic narrative in a way that is useful to pursuing their security agenda. The fact that cybercrime is so often linked to other forms of already securitized problems suggests that presidents are attempting to incorporate cybercrime into a larger security framework. However, despite these links, the development of the rhetoric of cybercrime among presidents is unique because of the distinctive nature of the mythic narratives regarding cybercrime (e.g., its ability to affect everyone as victims and our ability to “assist” in protecting vulnerable victims).

Conclusions and implications

We should be concerned about presidents’ use of mythic narratives in the context of the securitization paradigm. This is because, through the integration of the social science fictions that the elements of mythic narrative rely on and security policy, we are often treating elements like cybercrime as part of a security system that they are outside of. Consequently, this can expand executive power into areas within our lives that would normally fall outside of governmental purview. This, of course, is not theoretical, as the governmental surveillance of emails and other internet communication demonstrates (Halbert, 1997).

The incorporation of cybercrime into broader issues of security has another problematic factor as well—this one academic. If there is to be a critical analysis of cybercrime and cybersecurity policy broadly construed, the ability of academics to critique specific approaches is limited because the rhetoric has moved the topic outside the realm of normal academic debate to “technical” experts who can “objectively” decide policy (Hansen & Nissenbaum, 2009). In particular, criminal justice academics may be unable to actively critique elements of cybercrime because it will have been moved into the realm of “cybersecurity.”

These securitization movements rely on the elements of mythic narrative mentioned above. The fact that cybercrime is a threat to everyone, that the deviant others committing acts of cybercrime are seemingly omnipotent, and that the public needs the government and private sector to save them, suggest that cybercrime is not normal crime. This, of course, is contested within the literature (Yar, 2005), but most criminologists and criminal justice academics would agree that not all cybercrime should be subject to a broader security agenda.

While this study generally supports the contention that presidents rely on mythic narratives using the grammar of securitization when it comes to issues related to cybercrime, there are some limitations. First, while presidents spoke frequently about cybercrime, most of the time it was couched in terms of other topical elements within speeches on issues such as national security, terrorism, or technocrime more generally. In some respects, this supports the above analysis, but it also poses a limitation because the number of full speeches about only cybercrime were relatively few. Additionally, given the fact that cybercrime is such a new topic and that only three presidents have spoken about it at any length, the study is inherently limited in terms of its scope. It also suggests that there is more to do to see if other political leaders engage in the use of mythic narratives and adhere to the grammar of securitization on the topic of cybercrime.

Overall then, presidents have good reasons to use mythic narratives when it comes to the topic of cybercrime, and seem to have done so. Through taking advantage of mythic narratives, presidents may be able to generate support for policies whose effectiveness may be questionable. Moreover, it is possible that by linking the topic of cybercrime to other salient policies, presidents can gain more definite support, and this can be done through the grammar of securitization.

While the analysis here supports the both the framework of mythic narratives and securitization, at least in regard to cybercrime, there are significant questions that remain. Because cybercrime is a relatively new topic for the executive branch, there needs to be long-term research to determine how presidents respond to cybercrime or other issues both rhetorically and in terms of policy. Additionally, presidential responses to moral panics that emerge outside of the issue of cybercrime can be examined for similar use of securitization. Finally, there is the question of other actors at the federal level. Does congress use mythic narratives to frame questions in hearings? Do these narratives have a definable impact on policy? Additional research into this area will help to answer these questions and advance our knowledge about the role that mythic narratives play and their impacts on criminal justice policy.


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Joshua Hill is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at The University of Southern Mississippi. His research areas include the politics of crime as well as terrorism and homeland security.

Nancy Marion is a Professor and Chair of the Criminal Justice Studies Program at the University of Akron. Her research revolves around the politics of criminal justice.

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