Skip to main content

WH Cybersecurity Coordinator: Privacy, Speech Protections Are Core Tenets

White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt said the administration continues to work with industry on how to work together to combat cyber crimes and protect infrastructure and that he expects the cybersecurity package, whose reporting requirements have troubled some companies, would change with give and take over those concern.

He also said that protecting privacy and civil liberties would continue to be a "core tenet."

Asked in an interview for C-SPAN's Communicators program about pushback from telecom companies -- the White House submitted proposed cybersecurity legislation that included information sharing (as in reporting requirements) with critical infrastructure (broadband providers among others) -- Schmidt took issue with the suggestion that some had come out with "guns blazing" on the proposed new laws.

He said most of the people he had talked to said the White House proposal was "measured," and added that it was "the beginning of the dialog" rather than the end of it.

He conceded that the "devil was in the details," and said that it was yet to be determined just exactly what critical infrastructure would be defined as and what the reporting requirements would be. He said that includes making sure that if a company already has a reporting requirement to some government agency "that we are not piling more reporting requirements on top of them.

Schmidt said that was one of the concerns he had heard from the private sector and one the White House shared since it wanted to make sure that IT growth continued to be spurred. He said he expected further input from private sector. "I would think that as this moves forward there will be more input from the private-sector and as Congress coalesces on the details, we anticipate changes."

Schmidt said among the cyber issues the government is playing catch-up on include penalties for cybercrime and the impact on organized crime. "We recognize there is some ground we have to make up."

Protecting cybersecurity and online privacy were among the reasons FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski gave for needing to clarify the FCC's Internet authority via new network neutrality rules.

On the issue of privacy, Schmidt said Freedom of Speech and expression remain core tenets. He pointed out that the president had a dedicated privacy officer looking at those areas. He said they wanted to have controls in place to protect privacy and civil liberties and that it was something he was accountable for.

Schmidt defended the major role of the Department of Homeland Security in the administration's cybersecurity plan even though it is a relatively new agency and others, like NSA, have had much more experience with it, He said that was the best agency to work with the private sector. "I have confidence in the leadership," he said.

He took issue with the characterization of asking private industry to deal with cybersecurity as like having the airlines deal with air attacks. Schmidt said building security into systems has become a business imperative. "They have an inherent need to do that to make their businesses successful. Businesses don't make money if their products can't be sold securely."

He conceded some companies have been slow to the table about realizing and that part of the government's role is to help them understand they have that shared responsibility.

He said the government wants to know how prepared critical infrastructure is to deal with attacks, and what they are going to do to fix any vulnerabilities. He said smart lawyers are figuring out when an attack constitutes an act of war that demands a military response. That is why he said it was important for the government to have information on attacks and how they were being dealt with.

Schmidt said he thought cybersecurity legislation would pass in the next few months and that there would be renewed activity after Congress gets back. As with everything else, that issue has taken a back seat in the past weeks to the debt ceiling negotiations.