Senate panel moves to restore State cyber office

A key Senate panel advanced a bill on Tuesday that aims to boost U.S. cyber diplomacy by creating a high-level position within the State Department to oversee cyber policy abroad. 

By a unanimous voice vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed “The Cyber Diplomacy Act,” which would establish the Office of Cyberspace and the Digital Economy at State. The bill aims to boost engagement with other foreign nations on common cyber threats as well spread U.S. cyberspace interests abroad.

The legislation counteracts former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s decision to shutdown what was the agency’s Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues as part of his controversial reorganization of State, which was ostensibly aimed at streamlining operations. {mosads}

Tillerson had faced criticism and calls of concern from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle after he announced his decision to eliminate the cyber office and hand off its responsibilities to a bureau responsible for economic and business affairs.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) praised the bill’s passage.

“Enactment of this legislation will more effectively focus and centralize cyber diplomacy efforts at the State Department,” Corker said in a statement.

“The security and economic future of our country increasingly depends on working with our allies and partners to maintain a secure, reliable and open internet,” his statement continues.

The Senate bill made a series of changes to the House legislation that passed the lower chamber in January — a bill co-sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-Va.) that received bipartisan support.

The Senate version nixes several sections in the House bill, including a provision that would have allowed other countries to take “proportionate countermeasures under international law” in response to those who wage cyberattacks against them. The bill would have justified such countermeasures if “exercising the right to collective and individual self-defense.”

The committee also passed a version that removed a House section that would’ve required President Trump’s cyber policy to clarify “the applicability of international laws and norms, including the law of armed conflict” as it relates to cyber.

Several other aspects of the House bill were modified, including the formal name of the State Department’s office; the appointment of an Under Secretary for Political Affairs for an indefinite period of time to a four-year period; and the requirement that the president must report to Congress on international cyber agreements made before the legislation was enacted after 180 days instead of 60.

The bill is expected to advance to the Senate floor for consideration, although a time has not yet been publicly set.

Tags Bob Corker Donald Trump Ed Royce Rex Tillerson

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