The President announced the release of the long-awaited review of the state of federal cybersecurity on May 29, 2009. A broad theme of balance emerged in both the President's address and the accompanying report (which was headed up by Melissa Hathaway, the Acting Senior Director for Cyberspace for the National Security and Homeland Security Councils).
First, for the business community, there were clear signs that the cybersecurity agenda would be at least somewhat business-friendly. The President mentioned working with "all the key players," including the private sector, in responding to future cyber incidents. The report talked about the need for this area to be "lightly regulated" and, at least in the area of information sharing, for regulation to be a "last resort."
Second, for the citizens, privacy shared the limelight with security. The President mentioned that the new office in the White House will be headed by a Cybersecurity Coordinator, and that the office will also "include an official with a portfolio specifically dedicated to safeguarding the privacy and civil liberties of the American people." The report contains several similar examples of where privacy concerns provide a balance to security needs.
Third, for the government itself, the President talked about a "coordinated approach" and the need for "accountability" throughout the government. In addition, the report talked about the need for an overarching strategy that would include the notion of "use of force" in cyberspace. The President, however, recognized the need for balance within the government by ensuring that the ongoing process will be "open and transparent."
Delving further into the issue of balance in the President's address, the Cybersecurity Coordinator will be charged with the challenging task of balancing the many competing interests involved. This person will be handpicked by the President, and in recognition of the critical role that network security has come to play in both national security and the nation's continued economic vitality, the Cybersecurity Coordinator will be a member of both the National Security Council and the National Economic Council.
During his remarks, the President mentioned that the "top-to-bottom" review of the state of network security involved consultation with civilians, members of Congress, agencies involved in safeguarding national security, economic advisors and officials from other nations. Although he expressed his belief that network security can be greatly enhanced through greater collaboration between the federal government and state/local government and with private entities, he was careful to emphasize his dedication to Net neutrality and promised that his administration will not monitor private networks or Internet traffic, and will not dictate security standards.
In his remarks, the President also emphasized the interconnected relationship between economic prosperity and cybersecurity, mentioning that hackers and agents of foreign governments probe our government and private networks on a daily basis, and identifying such actions as a threat to the personal and corporate finances of American citizens and corporations (identity theft, fraud, theft of intellectual property). The President spoke of the need to be proactive in preparing for network intrusions and the need to recover from them quickly, comparing such events to more traditional types of national emergencies.
The release of the report and the President's address marks an historic event or, as one observer noted, a "world event." President Obama has done something no other president has done - he publicly articulated a commitment by the United States to significantly improving cybersecurity. One important thing to note, however, is captured in remarks by Melissa Hathaway at the RSA Conference in April. In discussing the report, she stated that this is just the "beginning of the beginning." How the recommendations in the report get carried out remains to be seen.