January 25, 2013, 1:40 PM — With Congress facing an impasse over new legislation to strengthen the country's defenses against cyberattacks, President Obama is widely expected to issue an executive order mandating new cybersecurity provisions.
That order, which could be promulgated in the coming weeks, would likely call on private-sector companies--but not compel them--to improve their coordination with government authorities as new threats and attacks materialize.
But even though many of the proposals in the anticipated executive order would not amount to binding directives, any White House action on cybersecurity will likely be met with sharp criticism from congressional Republicans, many of whom have been vocal in their opposition to any measure that would expand government oversight over digital infrastructure owned and operated by the private sector.
"Legislation usurping the collaborative efforts of private industry, security experts and academia is bad enough, but a unilateral executive order is even worse," Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said on Wednesday at the State of the Net technology policy conference. "So I call on President Obama and his administration to disavow any attempts to bypass the checks and balances of Congress when we're addressing these issues. Instead, we should recognize that Internet freedom demands that government facilitate private cybersecurity efforts and the multi-stakeholder process and not try to replace it."
The cybersecurity debate in Congress over the past few years has seen broad agreement on the issue of removing barriers, real or perceived, to the sharing of information about threats and attacks between the public and private sector.
But some lawmakers, particularly a bipartisan group of senators, have pushed for a more comprehensive approach that would grant new regulatory authorities to the Department of Homeland Security to oversee the security efforts of private-sector operators of systems deemed critical infrastructure.
The Obama administration endorsed the Cybersecurity Act, a comprehensive bill that appeared headed for debate on the Senate floor before it was blocked by the GOP late last year.