Congress Looks to Extend Government Overreach Into Cyberspace

It is impossible to believe that the government could move fast enough to keep pace with innovations in cyberspace.


Is the U.S. House of Representatives getting ready to apply the heavy hand of government regulation to cyberspace? That's the concern in some quarters over reports that a handful of Republicans on the House Homeland Security Committee are getting ready to join with their Democratic colleagues in pushing for a new government program to protect so-called critical infrastructure that is similar to a much-maligned cybersecurity bill currently under debate in the U.S. Senate.

If they get their way it would, say those that follow the issue, be a dramatic increase in the federal government's size and reach that would be very costly and impede the development of new technologies.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should Congress Pass Anti-Online Piracy Legislation?]

The complaints center on a section of the Senate bill that addresses "covered critical infrastructure." The bill directs the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to identify critical infrastructure sectors where "damage or unauthorized access to that system or asset could result in" the following:

  • "the interruption of life-sustaining services, including energy, water, transportation, emergency services, or food, sufficient to cause"
  • "a mass casualty event comparable to the consequences of a weapon of mass destruction," or
  • "mass evacuations of a major population center or a large geographic area in the United States,"
  • "catastrophic economic damage to the United States including:"
  • "failure or substantial disruption of a United States financial market;"
  • "incapacitation or sustained disruption of a financial system;" or
  • "other systemic, long-term damage to the United States economy;" or
  • "severe degradation of national security or national security capabilities, including intelligence and defense functions."
  • It's an extraordinarily broad definition, one that involves the entire economy that, critics say, would give bureaucrats the ability to reach into every sector of it and impose new rules in what would amount to a de facto mandate by the department.  

    [See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

    It is impossible to believe that the government could move fast enough to keep pace with innovations in cyberspace. The Internet moves too quickly, and the government, by design, moves too slowly. It would produce the worst of all possible outcomes: no innovation, huge costs, and no guarantee that any of it makes cyberspace more secure. Hopefully the Republicans on the Homeland Security Committee will come to their senses and reject the idea that a new cyber-bureaucracy is the answer to the security challenges the Internet currently faces.

    • See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit
    • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insiders guide to politics and policy.
    • Follow the Thomas Jefferson Street blog on Twitter at @TJSBlog.