State Department presents cyber norms to Congress

Maryland Democrat Benjamin Cardin is skeptical about how U.S. cyber adversaries will receive the State Department’s newly released peacetime norms for cyberspace.

Coordinator for Cyber Issues at the Department of State,  Christopher Painter.

Christopher Painter is coordinator for cyber issues at the State Department.

As the State Department’s cyber envoy presented the administration’s proposed peacetime norms for global cyberspace to Congress last week, Sen. Benjamin Cardin expressed skepticism of how the likes of Russia and China would receive such norms.

In a May 14 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, the Maryland Democrat asked whether the United States was considering agreeing to “a definitive standard that could jeopardize our security needs in using the Internet to defend America.”

Christopher Painter, State’s coordinator for cyber issues, said that was not the case, and that the development of peacetime norms will take time. Cardin did not appear wholly convinced, and later in the hearing said he was “greatly concerned” by reports that China had attacked U.S. websites using a unique cyber weapon known as the “Great Cannon.”

The hearing was the subcommittee’s first since adding “international cybersecurity policy” to its title, a move that Chairman Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said was a sign of the issue’s growing importance in foreign relations. Painter was there, in part, to present to lawmakers a set of peacetime norms for cyberspace that the Obama administration has been pushing at the United Nations.

The norms are, in brief, that nation-states: should not conduct online activity that intentionally harms critical infrastructure; should not prevent national computer emergency teams from responding to cyber incidents; should not conduct cyber-enabled intellectual property theft; and should cooperate with international investigations of cyber crimes.

The administration has lobbied for the inclusions of these norms in a draft report of the UN Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security (GGE), Painter told the subcommittee, adding that Australia and Estonia are among the countries that have reacted positively to the proposed norms.

The GGE has been perhaps the main global body for nation-states to wrestle with cyber norms. In 2013, the group issued an influential report saying that international law applies in cyberspace.

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