Computing Profession

Obama Administration Announces Landmark Global Internet Strategy

Sarah Granger

Monday, the White House announced their International Strategy for Cyberspace,  bringing multiple agencies together in an effort to emphasize their commitment to a broad vision of online engagement moving forward. The goal stated at the outset: cyberspace (whatever evolves from the Internet as we know it) should be open to innovation, interoperable, secure and reliable.

Speakers included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder, Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, John Brennan, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Deputy Secretary of Defense, Bill Lynn, and Howard Schmidt, Cybersecurity Coordinator and Special Assistant to the President. The convivial feeling in the room spanned from CTO Aneesh Chopra and CIO Vivek Kundra to General Keith Alexander, Commander of U.S. Cyber Command and several international diplomats.

Secretary Clinton outlined seven key policy priorities:

  1. economic engagement (including innovation, trade and public-private partnerships);
  2. cybersecurity (a secure Internet);
  3. law enforcement (responding and fighting cybercrime);
  4. military cooperation;
  5. multi-stakeholder Internet governance;
  6. development (including helping other countries build a robust digital infrastructure); and
  7. net freedom (protecting privacy and freedoms of speech, association, etc.).

Most of the speakers repeated the same points in their remarks, touting successes in each respective area within the Administration yet also citing challenges and a need for greater cross-agency coordination. As Lynn said, these challenges extend beyond what governments can achieve alone, and Napolitano explained that cyberspace can’t be kept independent from other missions. It has become so much a part of how Americans and the world does business and communicates on a daily basis.

Reading between the lines, the norms outlined could mean the Administration is willing to take further action based on online threats. (See my notes in italics.)

  • Upholding Fundamental Freedoms: States must respect fundamental freedoms of expression and association, online as well as off. / This is a message to regimes that might seek to ban online citizen engagement and activism.
  • Respect for Property: States should in their undertakings and through domestic laws respect intellectual property rights, including patents, trade secrets, trademarks, and copyrights. / The U.S. will partner with other countries to help protect intellectual property.
  • Valuing Privacy: Individuals should be protected from arbitrary or unlawful state interference with their privacy when they use the Internet. / The individual right to privacy will be taken seriously and the protection of those rights guaranteed.
  • Protection from Crime: States must identify and prosecute cybercriminals, to ensure laws and practices deny criminals safe havens, and cooperate with international criminal investigations in a timely manner. / Expect more international cooperation to fight cybercrime in the future. The stakes are being raised for catching hackers and Internet thieves.
  • Right of Self-Defense: Consistent with the United Nations Charter, states have an inherent right to self-defense that may be triggered by certain aggressive acts in cyberspace. / We’re interpreting known treaties to mean that if a foreign aggressor comes after the U.S. in cyberspace, we will respond with force.

These norms may already be in existence within the government, but now that they’re on paper, the Administration has committed to taking a stronger hand at online protection. More people in government now understand the importance of this protection and seem to take it seriously.

Even after months of work on this new strategy, critics are already asking what these new policy priorities will mean in practical terms. Realistically, it means more work and the need for domestic legislation that funds these priorities, such as the cybersecurity legislative proposal announced by the White House last week. It also means that within these overly bureaucratic agencies, particularly the Department of Homeland Security — known for being nearly impossible to navigate or promote decisive action — the need to break down barriers becomes even stronger. Whether the White House has the operational prowess to pull this off remains to be seen, but they have taken a big step in publicly proclaiming the seriousness by which they intend to proceed.

Sarah Granger is the Founder of the Center for Technology, Media & Society based in Silicon Valley. She serves on ACM’s U.S. Public Policy Council.


Join the Discussion (0)

Become a Member or Sign In to Post a Comment

The Latest from CACM

Shape the Future of Computing

ACM encourages its members to take a direct hand in shaping the future of the association. There are more ways than ever to get involved.

Get Involved

Communications of the ACM (CACM) is now a fully Open Access publication.

By opening CACM to the world, we hope to increase engagement among the broader computer science community and encourage non-members to discover the rich resources ACM has to offer.

Learn More