Plank: Going Forward, President to Update Cyberdefenses

The plank of the Democratic Party platform on cybersecurity suggests that President Obama will take unilateral action to safeguard the nation’s critical IT infrastructure because of Congress’ inability to enact comprehensive cybersecurity legislation.

In the Democratic Party’s platform, voted on Sept. 4 at its national convention in Charlotte, N.C., the official party stance states:

“Going forward, the president will continue to take executive action to strengthen and update our cyberdefenses.”

Unlike the Republican Party platform, which doesn’t necessarily reflect every view of presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the Democratic platform mirrors the administration’s positions on issues.

The Obama administration has signaled it might take unilateral steps on cybersecurity. White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said in a TV interview in August that the administration needs to see what it can do to develop guidelines or policies under executive branch authorities to protect critical IT infrastructure. “If the Congress is not going to act on something like this, then the president wants to make sure that we’re doing everything possible,” Brennan said [see Cat Out of Bag on Infosec Regulation?].

Call for Action

And as August drew to a close, there was an increased call for the administration to issue an executive order to strengthen the nation’s cyberdefenses in absence of Congress passing cybersecurity legislation.

“If there are things this Congress isn’t prepared to do, the president has a few options that he can move on,” former White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt said in an interview posted Aug. 30 on NationalJournal.com.

The chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, two days earlier urged Obama to take unilateral action to secure critical national IT systems because she doesn’t believe Congress will reach consensus on cybersecurity legislation this year [see Obama Urged to Take Solo Action on Cybersecurity].

Earlier, Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, encouraged Obama to issue an executive order to establish a program to protect critical cyber infrastructure along the lines of components of the Cybersecurity Act of 2012 [see A Cybersecurity Dream Act Alternative], which he co-sponsored and the Senate filibustered [see Senate Votes to Block Cybersecurity Act Action].

Platform Praises Obama for Unprecedented Steps

While the GOP platform blamed Obama administration policies for failing to curb the malicious actions of America’s adversaries [see GOP Disses Obama over Cybersecurity], the Democratic platform praises Obama and his administration for taking “unprecedented steps to defend America from cyberattacks, including creating the first military command dedicated to cybersecurity and conducting a full review of the federal government’s efforts to protect our information and our infrastructure.”

The platform continues:

“We will continue to take steps to deter, prevent, detect and defend against cyber intrusions by investing in cutting-edge research and development, promoting cybersecurity awareness and digital literacy and strengthening private-sector and international partnerships.

“President Obama has supported comprehensive cybersecurity legislation that would help business and government protect against risks of cyberattacks while also safeguarding the privacy rights of our citizens.”

Missing Element

What the plank on cybersecurity lacks is language that calls for government-backed standards – whether voluntary or required – that businesses should (or must) follow to secure the IT systems they operate and which are so vital for American society to function. It’s a belief among many Democrats that the federal government should impose some form of cyber regulation, developed in cooperation with business, or at least provide standards that can be voluntarily adopted.

But in a campaign in which Republicans contend more regulations stymie economic growth, the Democrats seem hesitant in giving their GOP rivals additional fodder to be used against them, even if they truly believe that standards defined by the government are crucial to safeguarding key IT networks.

Despite the political overtones of each of the parties’ platforms, what’s encouraging is that Democratic and Republican party leaders have elevated cybersecurity to a major policy that the federal government must address and recognized its importance to the nation’s well-being.