Carson proposes new federal agency to win 'cyberspace race'

Carson proposes new federal agency to win 'cyberspace race'
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Presidential candidate Ben Carson says the U.S. must unify its “disjointed and ineffective” approach to cybersecurity to win the “21st century cyberspace race.”

“When President Kennedy said he’d land an American on the moon, it brought together every part of America, from ordinary citizens to the highest levels of government,” says the Republican White House hopeful in a cybersecurity policy paper released Monday. “That is the kind of effort we need to drive American cyber leadership.”

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Carson's plan, unveiled just days before the Iowa caucuses, would consolidate federal cyber efforts under one new agency, the National Cyber Security Administration (NCSA), in the same way the government once coordinated its space exploration programs under NASA.

“Today it is time for a new ‘moon shot,’” the paper says. “We are in a cyberspace race, and we need a leader to present a bold vision to drive American innovation.”

Carson promises his plan would not create a “new federal bureaucracy.”

“On the contrary, it is a consolidation and unification of the countless and often redundant programs, initiatives and offices which operate disjointedly throughout the government,” the plan says.

The NCSA would centralize the government’s work to identify best practices for securing data. Currently, several agencies — such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Trade Commission — offer different types of advice on how companies, individuals and federal agencies can protect their sensitive information from hackers.

The NCSA would also collaborate with the private sector and direct research into security vulnerabilities, viruses and new forms of multi-factor authentication. Carson’s plan suggests the agency could even certify that products meet minimum cyber defense standards.

A privacy and civil liberties division would exist within the NCSA to provide “the American people with one phone number to call for any complaint” about intrusive surveillance tools.

Carson’s plan would not necessarily launch new cybersecurity initiatives. The Obama administration has programs working on each of the components that would be housed under Carson’s NCSA.

But Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, insisted the NCSA’s purpose is to help better coordinate these programs.

“The NCSA will drive American leadership and innovation like never before, making us the most secure and most advanced country on the net,” he said in a statement.

Carson, who has been falling in national polls and is fourth in Iowa, has not made cybersecurity a central part of his presidential platform thus far. But neither have his opponents, with the issue mostly absent from the GOP race.

Jeb Bush has been one of the few Republican White House hopefuls to speak regularly on the subject. Front-runner Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump Right way and wrong way Five things to know about the elephant trophies controversy MORE also mentioned cyber theft as part of a policy paper on U.S.-China trade relations. 

The topic did get a brief mention in the most recent Republican presidential debate during a question about how Carson would combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“They hit us with a cyberattack simultaneously and dirty bombs,” Carson said, describing the dangers ISIS presents. “Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue at that point? [President Obama] needs to recognize that those kinds of things are in fact an existential threat to us.”