Monday, December 8, 2008

Obama told to rule cyberspace

Barack Obama has been warned he must create a dedicated agency to save cyberspace from hacking and crime. The warning comes from a think-tank which accuses the Department of Homeland Security of failing to maintain America’s online security.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies proposes a White House-based National Office for Cyberspace with 10 to 20 employees. The organisation would replace both the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity division and the Cyber Task Force which is currently run as an inter-agency body.

The authors of the report making the proposal say the current system doesn’t work because there’s a split between domestic and foreign security policies. They argue that doesn’t make any sense for online security which often straddles national borders.

The report also says current policies for responding to a cyber-attack on the American government are unclear and inconsistent. It says the country needs to have a clearly stated policy so that would-be attackers know what the US government will do if it detects an attack, particularly if a foreign government is involved.

While the CSIS is an independent and non-partisan body, it may have a high level of influence on Obama’s decision making. That’s because five of the people who produced the report are current members of the Presidential transition team.

Ironically it may be difficult to discover how much the detail of the proposals differs from the current US policies on cybercrime. That’s because George Bush brought in new policies during his second term but chose to classify many of them as secret.

Bringing in new policies may be particularly trick in practice. Not only must any new laws fit in with Constitutional principles which never anticipated the internet, but it’s far from certain how much the US can do legally or practically to control the behaviour of internet users and providers from outside the country.

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