Bill boosting cyber R&D between U.S. and Israel passes House

The House quietly passed legislation on July 23 that would expand cybersecurity research and development partnerships between several federal agencies and the government of Israel.

cybersecurity (vs148/Shutterstock.com)

The House quietly passed legislation on July 23 that would expand cybersecurity research and development partnerships between several federal agencies and the government of Israel.

The bill, introduced in March by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), covers a broad set of cooperative issues between the two countries but contains several provisions related to cybersecurity. Most notably, it would create a new grant program at the Department of Homeland Security to support cybersecurity R&D as well as the demonstration and commercialization of cybersecurity technology with the Israeli government.

Applicants would be eligible for funding under the program if their project represents a joint venture between a U.S.-based third-party organization and an Israeli one, including the U.S. and Israeli governments, and addresses “a requirement in the area of cybersecurity research or … technology, as determined by the secretary.

The bill does not include a budget or funding for the grant program. Instead, it gives the secretary of Homeland Security the authority to accept funds contributed “by any person, government entity or organization” to pay for the grants. It would also establish a three-member advisory board to monitor the grant program that would be composed of one federal employee and two members chosen from a list provided by the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation and the United States-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation.

"This bill will expand relations with one of our closest allies, a relationship that is broad and deep, that highlights the positive impact the United States and Israel can have in so many critical areas when we work together,” Deutch said in a statement.

The legislation -- which has 292 co-sponsors in the House -- builds on a pre-existing bilateral agreement between the countries to undertake research and innovation activities that would contribute to increased capabilities in cybersecurity, protection of critical infrastructure, emergency response, explosives-detection technologies and other security areas. The previous agreement already covers the “systematic exchange of technologies, personnel and information from or applied to similar complementary operational research, development, testing and evaluation” between the two countries.

The bill directs the secretary of State to submit a report to Congress examining “the potential benefits and impact to the United States” of establishing a joint United States-Israel Cybersecurity Center of Excellence that would leverage expertise from the higher education, government and private sectors of both countries.

It also encourages the White House to appoint the assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs as the overarching coordinator for overseeing U.S.-Israel civilian research and development efforts. The State Department is similarly encouraged to appoint a new cyber diplomacy officer stationed at the U.S. embassy in Israel.

Israel has one of the most developed private technology industries in the world and invests a higher proportion of its gross domestic product in technology R&D than any other country except South Korea, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Israel’s high concentration of technology start-ups has drawn comparisons to Silicon Valley in the United States. Israeli companies include mapping and traffic giant Waze, web development platform Wix and the noted (and controversial) private surveillance firm NSO Group.

The bill must pass the Senate and be signed by President Donald Trump before becoming law.

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