Information Warfare Policies Emerge

Congress may soon ask the White House to draw up a national information security policy to defeat hacker attacks by cyberterrorists

The White House will be directed to draw up a national information security policy if Congress approves an amendment being prepared by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

The amendment, to be offered as part of the Senate's debate over the 1996 defense authorization bill prepared by the Senate Armed Services Committee, is intended to help defeat terrorist or wartime hacker attacks against U.S. computer networks.

But it is opposed by some cyberspace libertarian groups, which argue that it extends the reach of government officials too far into cyberspace. "It gives them congressional authority to poke their noses where the [1987 national] computer security act says they shall not go," said David Banisar, a lawyer with the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The 1987 act splits government information security policy into two parts -- one overseen by the National Security Agency and the other by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The National Security Agency sets policy for the protection of classified information, while the National Institute of Standards and Technology sets policy for the protection of unclassified information.

If approved by the House and the Senate, the White House will submit within 60 days "a report on national policy for protecting the security of the national information infrastructure... [and] the appropriate role of the federal government in regulating the security of... banks, public utilities, transportation systems, telecommunications systems and... all other information systems for which protection of security is in the national security interests of the United States," according to the amendment.

The White House policy would then be reviewed by Congress, which would consider various laws to boost the security of the national information infrastructure, said a Senate staff member.

The Kyl amendment will be considered in the first week of August. If passed, it may act as a catalyst, accelerating widespread government deliberations over the safety and reliability of the National Information Infrastructure, which includes telephones, computer links and financial transaction systems.

For example, Pentagon officials have prepared a draft presidential review document for approval by President Bill Clinton. If approved, government officials would draw up a national information security plan and submit it to Clinton for a final go-ahead.

Also, the Commerce Department's National Information Infrastructure Task Force has drafted a broad security policy that lays out priorities and general goals. Some of the policy's measures are included in a draft computer security bill being pushed by Kyl, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

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