Obama’s ‘cyber’ omission ends four-speech State of the Union streak

Obama’s ‘cyber’ omission ends four-speech State of the Union streak
© AP pool

President Obama late Tuesday omitted the word “cyber” from his State of the Union address for the first time since 2011.

While Obama’s remarks touched on a number of technology issues, such as net neutrality, computer science education and terrorists’ use of the Internet for recruitment, no variation of “cyber” was mentioned.

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The exclusion, while expected, ended a four-speech streak of mostly increasing attention to the emerging topic in each year’s address.

Starting with the 2012 State of the Union, Obama often had a cybersecurity proposal to promote during his speech.

In that speech, he pushed for a White House legislative offering from 2011. The bill would have required data breach reporting, clarified penalties for computer crimes and encouraged companies to share more information on cyber threats with the government.

“To stay one step ahead of our adversaries, I’ve already sent this Congress legislation that will secure our country from the growing dangers of cyber threats,” Obama said.

Small portions of that proposal were finally signed into law in December with the Cybersecurity Act of 2015. The final bill offered businesses legal liability protections when sharing data on hacking threats with the government in an effort to boost the public-private exchange of information.

In 2013, Obama gave his State of the Union address just hours after signing perhaps the biggest cyber-related executive order of his presidency.

The executive action directed the government to develop a voluntary framework that companies could use to assess and bolster their cyber defenses.

The move, Obama vowed in his speech, “will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs and our privacy,” he said.

Three years later, that framework has been adopted by a wide swath of large companies and federal agencies and is frequently cited by both industry and government as a key step in combating hackers.

The 2014 State of the Union speech was the one exception to Obama’s increasing attention to cybersecurity in his annual address over the past four years. The topic only received a passing mention that was not tied to any agenda item.

Last year’s State of the Union address, however, featured an unprecedented call for cybersecurity action.

The speech came during the fallout from the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack, perhaps cybersecurity’s most prominent cultural moment.

Just weeks before the speech, President Obama had taken the novel step of publicly blaming North Korea for the incident. Days later, the White House slapped Pyongyang with new sanctions.

Riding the wave of attention, the administration unveiled a multi-pronged cybersecurity plan that included a series of legislative proposals just before the address.

“No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids,” Obama said.

The proposals included measures intended to encourage public-private information sharing; to protect student data; to raise the punishments for cyber crimes; and to require that companies report data breaches and adhere nationwide data security standards.

The Cybersecurity Act of 2015 included many of these information-sharing provisions, but the other proposals have all stalled on Capitol Hill and seem unlikely to move in this Congress.

Overall, Obama mentioned the word "cyber" in five of his eight State of the Union speeches.