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DHS secretary praises CISA, but college kids don't much care

Jeh Johnson

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told American University students that newly passed legislation would give DHS "added authority to deal with our cybersecurity."

For a brief moment, a college student knew more about the state of American cybersecurity legislation than Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

"There is cybersecurity legislation before the U.S. Senate right now, as I speak," Johnson said, addressing students at American University on Oct. 27. "I've got to look at my BlackBerry to see whether or not that legislation passed."

A smartphone-equipped student in the front row quickly offered the answer: the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015 had passed, 74-21.

"Good," Johnson replied. "And what about the Cotton amendment?"

The student didn't know.

"But something passed. OK, good," Johnson said. "We'll have new laws that will give the Department of Homeland Security added authority to deal with our cybersecurity."

But once they had learned the fate of the legislation, the millennials in the audience showed no additional interest in cybersecurity.

CISA aims to encourage companies to share cyberthreat data with one another and with DHS and the intelligence community. The amendment by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), which would have added the Secret Service and the FBI to the information-sharing loop, had been blocked.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed the legislation, but privacy activists warned that it would enable surveillance without meaningfully improving cybersecurity.

The topic played a minor role in Johnson's talk, "Securing Our Nation Against 21st-Century Challenges." He mentioned the encryption debate in passing and talked about information sharing by way of emphasizing DHS efforts to work more closely with state and local law enforcement.

"It's a more complicated world, and it requires a whole-of-government approach," he said of the fight against homegrown, social media-encouraged terrorism. "The next terrorist attack could be first identified by the cop on the beat."

Johnson focused much of his speech on his own education and career path, and he told students that mediocre grades need not prevent them from achieving greatness.

The students asked questions about the Islamic State group, immigration, the future of DHS and the war on drugs, but no one asked about cybersecurity. (The closest was a question about court approval of roving wiretaps.)

"I was opposed to the Cotton amendment, and I'm very supportive of CISA as written," Johnson told FCW after his presentation. "I think this is huge, I think this is terrific, and I'm really pleased."

DHS released a statement in the same vein later that evening.

Posted by Zach Noble on Oct 28, 2015 at 11:00 AM


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