Richard Clarke, former cybersecurity adviser to the liberty-chilling George W. Bush Administration, has an idea for lawmakers who are constantly debating ways to avert cyberattacks: a sort of Internet border patrol.
In a New York Times opinion piece entitled “How China Steals Our Secrets,” Clarke espouses the idea that the biggest threat to the cybersecurity of the Federal government and American business comes from China.
Clarke’s piece was published just days after a Congressional panel heard testimony about a 10-year, $1 billion research program that was copied by hackers in a single night. U.S. Cyber Command Chief Gen. Keith B. Alexander called the crime at the time “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.”
Clarke contends that bigger attacks are on the way and warns that hackers handing secrets to the Chinese jeopardizes the Nation’s global “competitive edge.” Many private firms are already unknowingly being hacked by outside users with unauthorized access, and the next major cybercrime could already be on the horizon, according to his writing.
The author seemingly goes on to suggest that recent wildly unpopular cybersecurity bills proposed by Congress failed because of lawmaker inaction, but fails to mention the widespread public outcry against the measures. Since Congress has not moved forward with any measures, Clarke believes that the Administration of Barack Obama should step in. He urges the Administration to toss aside fears of “a negative reaction from privacy-rights and Internet-freedom advocates who do not want the government scanning Internet traffic.”
Clarke lays out a plan as follows:
Under Customs authority, the Department of Homeland Security could inspect what enters and exits the United States in cyberspace. Customs already looks online for child pornography crossing our virtual borders. And under the Intelligence Act, the president could issue a finding that would authorize agencies to scan Internet traffic outside the United States and seize sensitive files stolen from within our borders.
The author contends that privacy rights would be protected if the initiative were carried out in such a way because the President could appoint an “empowered privacy advocate” to keep DHS from abusing the power.
Clarke’s idea is still a suggestion to lawmakers at this point. But Congress is already working on several initiatives to further entwine government intelligence and the Internet.
A bill currently gaining Congressional support called CISPA, or the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (H.R. 3523), would give government officials the power to pry into the personal correspondence of anyone they choose.
The bill, introduced in the House in 2011 by Representative Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), broadly defines information that can be snooped by government agencies with the help of service providers as “information directly pertaining to a vulnerability of, or threat to a system or network.” The Electronic Freedom Foundation contends that the bill essentially hands the Internet over to the military intelligence community.
Another House cyber security bill — The Precise Act (H.R 3674), sponsored by Representative Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) — has also raised concerns among some Internet privacy advocates. Though Lungren’s initiative more narrowly defines what activities could be considered threatening, it calls for Internet service providers to monitor their subscribers’ communications.
The House has designated the week of April 23 “cyber security week,” and may vote on both aforementioned bills.
Similar bills are also currently in the Senate. One introduced in February by Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) — The Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S. 2105) — would direct DHS to snoop information on the Internet in the same way that CISPA does. In March, Senator John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) Strengthening and Enhancing Cybersecurity by Using Research, Education, Information, and Technology Act of 2012 (S. 2151) was also introduced to the Senate. It contains cybersecurity proposals similar to the other bills mentioned. The Senate is expected to vote on the bills in May.
The latest round of cybersecurity legislation initiatives haven’t received as much negative attention as SOPA and PIPA did earlier in the year, but technology privacy experts warn that they are just as dangerous to online privacy.
“[If] you look at most of these bills closely, you’ll see that there are extraordinarily complex civil liberties problems in virtually every one of these bills,” said Leslie Harris, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology.