By Tom Eley
President Barack Obama announced on Friday the creation of a new "cyber czar" position. The Cybersecurity Coordinator, who is yet to be named, would oversee billions of dollars in funding for developing and coordinating defense of the computer networks that operate the global financial system and domestic transportation and commerce, according to the administration. The position, which Obama said would report directly to him, results from a 60-day "cyberspace policy review" Obama ordered.
Obama's announcement was overshadowed by the US military's imminent creation of a new military "Cyber Command," detailed in a New York Times article published Friday. Obama has not even been presented with the military's plan, nor did he mention it directly in his press conference. However, administration sources have said he will sign a classified order or set of directives later this month authorizing the creation of the Cyber Command.
Media accounts indicate that the formation of the parallel domestic and military cyber security agencies was the source of a bitter "turf battle" between and within competing national security and federal domestic agencies.
As a compromise, Obama's domestic Cybersecurity Coordinator would report to both the National Economic Council (NEC), a White House economic advisory group, and the National Security Council, the top-level presidential advisory group that coordinates foreign and military policy, thus ensuring "a balance between homeland security and economic concerns," the Washington Post reports. Obama's top economic advisor, Lawrence H. Summers, fought for a dominant role for the NEC so that "efforts to protect private networks do not unduly threaten economic growth."
In his Friday press conference, Obama sought to present the Cybersecurity Coordinator position in the most innocuous terms, referring to the "spyware and malware and spoofing and phishing and botnets." and "cyber thieves" that anyone with access to the Internet confronts. Obama emphasized that the measure would not include "monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic. We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans," he said. "Indeed, I remain firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the Internet as it should be—open and free."
But the creation of high-level police agency tasked with overseeing the Internet raises troubling questions. As the New York Times notes, it "appears to be part of a significant expansion of the role of the national security apparatus" in the White House.
Meanwhile, legislation working its way through Congress, the so-called Cybersecurity Act of 2009, would grant the US government unprecedented control over the Internet. The bill gives the president unrestricted power to halt Internet traffic, ordering the shutdown of both government and privately owned and operated networks deemed related to "critical infrastructure information systems," merely by declaring a "cybersecurity emergency."