GOP members to White House: Cyber order would hurt Internet freedom

“This is a most critical time, and we cannot afford a hasty, unilateral action that will only serve to bolster the efforts of less democratic nations to stifle the very free exchange of ideas and expression that has allowed the Internet to flourish across the globe,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to the White House. 

The upcoming treaty negotiations in Dubai have sparked alarm from U.S. companies and officials after reports surfaced that countries plan to push for proposals that would expand the U.N.’s authority over the Internet and cybersecurity regulations. The U.S. is advocating for the current Internet governance system to be upheld, which allows multiple organizations to oversee the management of the Internet rather than one centralized entity. 

In the letter, the GOP lawmakers argue that issuing an executive order that exerts “regulatory influence of the Internet in the name of cybersecurity” will add steam Russia and China’s push “to upend the non-regulatory, multi-stakeholder governance model that has allowed the Internet to flourish.” It would also “undermine” recent efforts by the House and Senate to pass congressional resolutions that call on the U.S. to oppose expanding the U.N.’s authority over the Internet, they wrote. 

“Unilateral action altering the oversight of the Internet in this country could be interpreted by the rest of the world as a statement of ‘do as I say, not as I do,” the lawmakers said. 

The White House has drafted an executive order aimed at protecting critical infrastructure systems from cyber attacks amid congressional gridlock on cybersecurity legislation. The draft order would establish a voluntary program in which companies that operate critical infrastructure would take steps to better secure their computer systems and meet a set of security standards crafted, in part, by the Homeland Security Department.  

The GOP members call this “the wrong approach,” adding that it would create “a top-down, one-size fits all bureaucracy to address cybersecurity” that will slow down the nation’s response time to a cyber attack and add more costs to the economy. They also voiced skepticism about the Homeland Security Department’s ability to manage these cybersecurity efforts. 

Last week White House national security staff and a team of administration officials met with Senate aides to get input about a possible cybersecurity executive order. The White House plans to meet with House aides as well.  

In response to the concerns raised by the GOP members, White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the administration is committed to protecting Internet freedom and “focused on improving the cybersecurity of U.S. critical infrastructure, not regulating the internet.”   

“Any cybersecurity executive order issued by this administration would be consistent with our advocacy of Internet freedom and promoting innovation,” Hayden said in a statement to The Hill. “The administration remains committed to the open, multi-stakeholder approach to the Internet and has consistently advocated for this position internationally.”

Hayden also added that the White House is in the process of reaching out to congressional staff to get feedback and “clarify a variety of misconceptions about our intentions behind an executive order.”

The letter to the president was signed by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and committee members Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), Lee Terry (R-Neb.) Robert Latta (R-Ohio) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). From the upper chamber, Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) signed the letter. 

This post was updated at 8:13 p.m. with a comment from the White House

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