This week has been full of headlines. The Gulf oil spill has monopolized most of the media’s conversation, and justifiably so. There was also the revelation that the senior White House staff adviser Valerie Jarrett and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had been subpoenaed in the corruption trial of ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. And just as the Sestak scandal is heating up, it now appears that White House Deputy Chief of Staff, Jim Messina, made a similar attempt to bribe Andrew Romanoff into dropping his bid for the Democratic Senate race in Colorado. There was also the Israeli attack on Gaza flotilla. Oh, and the Gores have decided to dissolve their 40 year marriage. It’s been a busy week.
But the intent of the Obama White House Diaries website (http://www.obamawhitehousediaries.com/
/) is to try to discover what the left hand of the federal government is doing while we are distracted by the right-hand. You may recall that the Obama White House Diaries published a story on May 6 entitled “Meet Susan Crawford, the White House’s Internet Czar”. It discussed Crawford’s views on Internet regulation, her desire to save the newspapers from declining readership and the federal government’s goal to provide subsidized high-speed Internet service to all low income households. She also believes in the concept of “net neutrality”, which purports that private sector Internet service providers should not be allowed to create tiered pricing structures based upon content and offerings. Instead, they should be federally regulated as “utilities” with strict price controls. This is analogous to telling Dish Network that it cannot charge a premium for HBO or Showtime. These ideas do not seem to embrace the concept of free enterprise, but then again, neither does the Obama administration.
So it may come as no surprise that senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins have drafted a bill which would give the Department of Homeland Security emergency powers over private data networks, including local area networks and servers within companies, based upon a perceived or predicted cyber attack. Specifically, the bill states:
• “The President may issue a declaration of an imminent cyber threat to covered critical infrastructure.”
• DHS’s National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications will “develop and coordinate emergency measures or actions necessary to preserve the reliable operation, and mitigate or remediate the consequences of the potential disruption, of covered critical infrastructure.”
• “The owner or operator of covered critical infrastructure shall comply with any emergency measure or action developed by the Director”
• The DHS cybersecurity director has to ensure that the emergency measures “represent the least disruptive means feasible” and that “the privacy and civil liberties of United States persons are protected,”
This bill appears to be another version of similar legislation previously proposed by Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe. In the interest of “national security”, their bill which would have given the federal government the ultimate power to disconnect the Internet. The proposal created such public outrage that it died a quick death. This new bill, however, may get legs.
It naturally begs the question: Is there a problem with the Lieberman/Collins proposal? After all, having a plan to minimize the damage of a cyber attack seems like a noble idea. But perhaps it may not be appropriate when considering the following facts:
• In April, a Pew poll reported that only 22% of Americans surveyed now trust the government in Washington. Almost 33% of those surveyed also believe that the government is a major threat to their personal freedoms and they want a reduction of federal powers.
• This administration has demonstrated an appetite for seizing control of private companies in the face of economic adversity. Sectors include health care, automotive, banking, insurance and student loans. And of course, the federal government now owns over half of the home mortgages in America.
• Despite the positive spin in Obama’s press conference last week regarding the Gulf oil spill, the federal government has done an extremely poor job of providing leadership, coordinating efforts and communicating information. Ironically, Washington has been paralyzed in balancing this environmental threat with current EPA legislation and policy. We are now into day 45.
• The Department of Homeland Security has had a difficult time in getting one step ahead of terrorist activity. The Fort Hood massacre, the incompetent underwear bomber and the equally incompetent Times Square bomber immediately come to mind.
Analysis: The proposed cyber bill would give the president power to seize control over private networks based upon his understanding of a perceived security flaw coupled with any rumors of an attack. There are no guidelines associated with either of these determinations. In short, it’s simply the president’s personal decision whether or not to take over a private companies Internet operations. These emergency measures are supposed to remain in place for no more than 30 days, but they can be extended indefinitely. This unilateral authority is not accountable to Congress or to the Judiciary.
So here’s the question: Are you comfortable with that?
© 2010 by Craig Covello. Used with Permission. All Rights Reserved.