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Internet Management and National Security: Time for a Federal Action Plan

Former CIA Director George Tenet recently gave a speech highlighting the need for federal action on internet management in order to protect national security. As reported by the online edition of Government Executive, Mr. Tenet explained that, “greater government regulation of the Internet and telecommunications networks is needed in order to guard against terrorist attacks.”

The retired CIA Director went on to state that the internet “represents a potential Achilles’ heel for our financial stability and physical security if the networks we are creating are not protected.” He also stressed that industry needs to ensure that communications technologies have built-in security protections. Mr. Tenet recognized that “these actions would be controversial in this age where we still think the Internet is a free and open society with no control or accountability. But, ultimately, the Wild West must give way to governance and control.” However, Mr. Tenet apparently did not explain who would pay for the development and implementation of such security measures.

Mr. Tenet’s speech did, indirectly, raise the key question of: Who will govern the internet? The United Nations is currently seeking to take the internet governance lead through its World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process, a move that is deeply at odds with American values and security interests.

As Reports Without Borders noted, over half the members of the WSIS’ working group on internet governance are from countries such as Cuba, China and Iran “which are some of the world’s most repressive countries of freedom of expression.” With regard to a recent WSIS preparatory meeting in Syria, Reporters Without Borders stated, “Holding a summit in Tunisia about the free flow of online information is already absurd, but holding a preparatory meeting in a country like Syria, where an Internet user is in prison for simply e-mailing a newsletter, is chilling. Does this mean the Internet policies of these regimes are acceptable choices for the rest of the world?”

While the UN is seizing the lead in governing the internet, the federal government is in the process of privatizing its role in the internet’s technical management. The private sector clearly needs to play a vital role in securing the internet from attack just as the federal government will need to play an enduring technical role in ensuring the stability and security of the internet. However, any proposal which would place costs and other burdens on the private sector needs to be carefully evaluated. One practical way for the federal government to define its long term technical internet management responsibilities would be to develop an Internet Management Action Plan and present it for public comment.

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James Seng  –  Dec 8, 2004 4:58 PM
Ram Mohan  –  Dec 14, 2004 8:09 PM

There is little evidence to support Mr. Tenet’s claim that further government regulation will increase the stability or the security of the Internet.

Just how do you envision “the federal government needs to play an enduring technical role in ensuring the stability and security of the internet”?

This also does not consider that other parts of the world (Japan, Korea, India, UK, Brazil, etc) use the Internet and it’s not just the private reserve of the US Federal Government anymore.

A flawed assumption from Mr. Tenet, compounded by flawed analysis above.

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