President Obama said Friday that the government was going to start treating the nation's digital infrastructure, broadband networks and computers as strategic national assets that should be "open and free."
His remarks came in announcing the release of a report on the state of the nation's cyber security, which he indicated needed to be beefed up in numerous ways (he admitted that his own campaign Web efforts had been hacked).
The president pledged to protect privacy and economic security, and even gave a shout-out to network neutrality, saying, "Indeed, I remain firmly committed to net neutrality so we can keep the Internet as it should be--open and free."
The new priority on cybersecurity will include creating an office in the White House led by a cybersecurity coordinator who will also be a member of the national security staff and work closely with new Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra.
The president said the administration will also work closely with local government and the private sector to respond to cybersecurity "incidents." He also emphasized that the administration will not "dictate" security policy to the private sector: "On the contrary; we will collaborate with industry to find technology solutions that ensure our security and promote prosperity."
Moreover, Obama said the administration had no intention of monitoring private Internet traffic: "Let me also be clear about what we will not do. Our pursuit of cybersecurity will not --I repeat, will not-- include monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic. We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans."
The president said the country will continue to invest in infrastructure, "laying broadband lines to every corner of America." The president's economic stimulus package includes over $7 billion in broadband rollout grants and loans.
Verizon senior vice president of government relations Peter Davidson said the company was willing to work with the president on beefing up cybersecurity, pointing out that it helped the administration with the top-to-bottom review that resulted in Friday's announcement.
"We are pleased that cybersecurity is a priority for the Obama Administration, and we are committed to working with the president on this important issue," he said in a statement. "Working together in a collaborative fashion, government and industry can better ensure that America's information and communications infrastructure is trusted, resilient, and secure."
"We certainly agree that effective solutions will require constructive public-private engagement and look forward to working with whoever is appointed," said Walter McCormick, Jr., president of US Telecom, the association representing telco broadband providers and manufacturers.
Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D.-W.Va.) and ranking member Olympic Snowe (R-Maine), applauded the announcement, and advised the president to put no layers of bureaucracy between is cybersecurity czar and the Oval Office.
"We strongly urge the president to follow through on his groundbreaking leadership on this issue by giving this 'cyber czar' the heft and authority the position requires," they said in a statement Friday. "[T]his advisor should report directly to the president on all cyber matters. There is no room for error, and no room for bureaucratic turf battles. We need to act now -- the time to combat cyber terror was yesterday."