Legislation would open diplomatic relations -- in cyberspace

Measure responds to growing calls for international coordination

In an effort to address what he calls an uncoordinated and fragmented diplomatic approach to international cybersecurity issues, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today announced plans to introduce a bill that would establish the position of ambassador at large to coordinate U.S. cyberspace issues.

The State Department’s coordinator for cyberspace and cybersecurity issues would be the principal adviser to the secretary of state in this arena and provide strategic direction for U.S. international policy. He also would coordinate policy with U.S. agencies, including the Homeland Security, Defense, Treasury, Justice and Commerce departments, as well as with the intelligence community and the private sector.

The bill also would direct the secretary of state to designate a point person for cybersecurity policy in every relevant country or region.

The International Cyberspace and Cybersecurity Coordination Act of 2010 would address calls from government officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair and President Barack Obama for a coordinated international approach to cybersecurity and cyberspace issues.

The bill text quotes the May 2009 White House Cyberspace Policy Review, which stated: "The nation also needs a strategy for cybersecurity designed to shape the international environment and bring like-minded nations together on a host of issues, such as technical standards and acceptable legal norms regarding territorial jurisdiction, sovereign responsibility, and use of force. International norms are critical to establishing a secure and thriving digital infrastructure.”

Cybersecurity is inherently an international issue because of the lack of borders or national control on the Internet. This has made securing an infrastructure on which the global economy is increasingly dependent more difficult, and a lack of international cooperation has complicated law enforcement efforts against online criminals, who can operate in one country and use resources in a second country to attack targets in a third country.

In addition to addressing law enforcement issues, concerns also are growing about the offensive and defensive cyber war capabilities being developed by many nation states. “The international community should strongly consider the utility of negotiating a multilateral framework on cyber warfare that would create shared norms for cyber conduct,” the bill says.

The bill says that U.S. diplomatic engagement on these issues has been uncoordinated and fragmented and that there is no general framework among countries for addressing them.

Under the bill's provisions, the secretary of state, in consultation with other relevant federal agencies, would develop and establish a "clear and coordinated strategy for international cyberspace and cybersecurity engagement." This would be the job of the cyberspace coordinator, who would “provide strategic direction and coordination for United States government policy and programs aimed at addressing and responding to cyberspace and cybersecurity issues overseas.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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