GOP platform seeks more aggressive U.S. cyber deterrence policies

Obama Administration's focus on defensive capabilities ineffective, manifesto says

The 2012 Republican Party platform adopted this week calls for a more aggressive U.S. cyber deterrence policy for dealing with security threats against government and civilian targets.

The platform, which lists the GOP's stance on a variety of election issues, criticized the Obama Administration's handling of cybersecurity issues and lamented the lack of an "active deterrence protocol" in cyber space.

It argues that Obama's policies are too defensive and haven't curbed malicious activities by adversaries. "The U.S. cannot afford to risk the cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor," because of inaction, the GOP argues. "The frequency, sophistication and intensity of cyber-related incidents within the United States have increased steadily over the past decade and will continue to do so until it is made clear that a cyber attack against the United States will not be tolerated."

The comments, contained in a section titled "A Twenty-First Century Threat: The Cybersecurity Danger," are noteworthy because they mark first time either party has focused on cybersecurity in their election-year manifestos. In 2008, for instance, the Democratic and Republican platforms only made fleeting references to cybersecurity issues.

The 2008 Democratic platform in a one-sentence comment promised to ensure better cybersecurity by working with private industry and the research community. The document also noted the threat of large-scale damage posed by cyberattacks and cyber warfare. The GOP manifesto did not even make a separate reference to cyberthreats. Instead, it only offered passing references to cyberattacks and cyber terrorism.

The Democratic platform is scheduled to be released next week, during that party's convention in Charlotte, N.C. The GOP convention is now under way in Tampa, Fla.

In addition to calling for a tougher deterrence policy, the GOP platform takes a swipe at the Obama Administration's support for a bill that seeks to bolster cybersecurity by enabling better threat information sharing between the government and private companies.

The Republicans have staunchly opposed the bill, arguing that it is too regulatory and will vest the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with too much enforcement authority. Republicans have proposed their own alternative to the bill, which is currently stalled in the Senate.

The GOP platform also blasts the Obama Administration's "costly and heavy-handed regulatory approach" toward cyber matters and claimed that such polices would only succeed in curbing innovation in cybersecurity. It acknowledges the need for better cyberthreat information sharing between the government and private industry, but maintained that sharing should be voluntary and collaborative, not something that is enforced through mandate.

The platform also calls for limits on the government's use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, within U.S. airspace.

The Obama Administration earlier this year signed into law a bill that requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue drone licenses for law enforcement, for commercial use and even to private hobbyists. That law has sparked considerable concern among privacy and civil rights advocates who fear it will lead to drones being used for unprecedented surveillance.

"We support pending legislation to prevent unwarranted or unreasonable governmental intrusion through the use of aerial surveillance or flyovers on U.S. soil, with the exception of patrolling our national borders," the GOP platform says. "All security measures and police actions should be viewed through the lens of the Fourth Amendment; for if we trade liberty for security, we shall have neither."

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

See more by Jaikumar Vijayan on Computerworld.com.

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