Cyber Security is among the top issues that Homeland Security considers “our first and last line of defense for the nation,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke. The ubiquitous use of laptops, desktops and smart phones bring a host of national security issues with them, from privacy to identity theft and hacking.
“We have to be conscious of what these tools are capable of,” said Clarke, “not for the protection of individual citizens but also because “there are nation states, hacktivists, terrorist organizations, all kinds of different groups out there that knows how to utilize this other universe that I’m talking about – the Internet – to wreak havoc for good or ill. These are people or entities that go after the financial sector each and every day, multiple times a day. These are the ones that are infiltrating news organizations, hospitals, universities and government agencies.”
Clarke sits on the Cyber Security Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee. “Essentially what we do is examine with private industry because a lot of what we are talking about is in the private domain,” she said. “What DHS is responsible for is coordinating, setting standards for the types of protections for the nation that are required, given what we know about this threat.”
She made her case for a seat on the committee when she was first elected to Congress in 2007 because at that time there were no members of Congress from the City of New York on the Homeland Security Committee, the closest being Peter King. It was right after 9/11 which personally impacted everyone in the city. “And as you know we had to rebuild the FDNY after 9/11,” said Clarke. “My work in the City Council had some bearing as well because I chaired the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice at that time.”
The congresswoman gets animated when discussing the variety of issues that Cyber Security addresses. “I enjoy it. It’s science fiction in real time. If you grew up on science fiction like I did, I am intrigued by it,” Clarke said. “But it can get scary at times. And we have got to become much more astute as a civil society. Part of that is the cyber hygiene that I talk about.”
Clarke explained the various threats from viruses to cookies and other software – that despite antivirus software – quickly makes computer equipment obsolete. “We live in an open society. Having that openness is what makes America so innovative.
Once you accept that, then you know that dealing with the Internet is like a universe that layers on our actual day-to-day interactions,” said Clarke. “It is a virtual scenario that has been set up, but it communicates. There are a lot of vulnerabilities.” It is as simple as smart phones today that just connecting them transfers information. “So imagine what one can do if you can quickly transfer information that way,” Clarke said. “That’s a powerful tool.”
But, according to Clarke, “there has to be some level of judicial thought when it comes to how we regulate” the Internet and what the repercussions are for information and action, and the spectrum of users from baby boomers, who go no further than cable TV and flip phones, to babies who play with iPods as a standard toy. “All of those factors have to go into how we begin to view what is normative behavior,” said Clarke.
The federal government is grappling with establishing a baseline of what will become accepted operating procedure regarding the Internet’s utility. During the last congressional session, CISPA (the Cybersecurity Intellectual Sharing Protection Act) was introduced. CISPA sets up a framework for how the Internet is regulated. “Because a lot of what we have is in the private domain,” said Clarke, “and how we prescribe how information is shared is very, very important.”
The first iteration of CISPA was defeated. Why? “Because it didn’t adequately enough protect the users of the Internet. The privacy was not strong enough. Essentially, it said that private entities would basically receive immunity if they were to share personal information with the government or other entities. These private companies are trying to get around any liability should something that they did not anticipate happens,” said Clarke. “Hence, that’s why I voted against it.”
Rep. Clarke anticipates a modified version of CISPA will be reintroduced during Washington’s Cyber Week which commences on April 15. She is hoping the bill’s sponsors will take into account what happened with the last version and have done the modifications.
“We are just at the beginning of our understanding of the breadth and depth of what we are dealing with,” said Clarke. “But just like the adoption of seat belt use, there has to be that level of practice and perfection to a baseline of security that people are conscious of. It takes a while for it to become a norm because we’ve got such a spectrum of users right now. Until we do a concerted effort as a government and a society, it’s still hit or miss.”
In the meantime, Rep. Clarke has been advocating for the Advertising Council to join with government to begin doing advertisements that are basic PSA’s, a sort of Cyber 101. She stresses awareness that despite the open sharing that takes place on the Internet, “Copyright infringements have always been the law, whether digital or not,” said Clarke. “We have to figure out how we deal with the origin of something.”
Clarke believes civil society has to come to a consensus on Internet etiquette. “If you can get the next generation to at least consider that as a way of maximizing the utility of the Internet, then you are doing something,” said Clarke.
“But right now, I think what we are seeing in terms of behavior is almost a reflection of how we deal with each other in society. That is going to be reflected in the usership of the Internet. There is nothing that you can do other than try to set standards — through law — that enables someone to know they are going against the consensus of the civil society. We’ve all (for the most part) gained consensus to law on a number of issues. Otherwise, we’d have anarchy. That has to be applied to the use of the Internet as well.”