How the Government's 2013 Tech Policy Agenda Will Impact IT

From cybersecurity to privacy, mobile broadband to net neutrality, the coming year in Washington promises to be a busy one for the technology sector.

By Kenneth Corbin
Mon, January 14, 2013

CIO — As President Obama heads into his second term and the 113th Congress gavels in, lawmakers and regulators will return to work on a host of issues affecting the technology and telecom industries.

The committees seats are shuffling, and many senior administration officials and top staffers are expected to resign from their posts, but many of the core policy issues in the tech sector are still very much in play.

[Related Government Tech Policy Highs and Lows of 2012]

Here is a guide to a few of the many tech-policy debates on tap for 2013.

Cybersecurity Tops Lists of Policy Concerns

online security, cybersecurity
Of the many policy issues in play concerning the tech sector, few (if any) are debated with the same urgency as cybersecurity. The attacks are increasing in frequency and sophistication, and it may only be a matter of time before attackers deal a crippling blow to a critical segment of U.S. infrastructure, whether a regional electric grid or a financial market, a water-supply system or communications network. Senior government officials talk in terms of a "cyber Pearl Harbor" and an "existential threat."

Of course, many find that level of rhetoric a bit overstated, but there is widespread agreement that the threats are real, and that policymakers have a role in addressing the issue, though there is sharp debate over what that role should be. After concerted bipartisan efforts to enact cybersecurity legislation stalled in the past two Congresses, the issue awaits the 113th.

Before the first committee even takes up cybersecurity in a hearing, however, the discussion could change dramatically with the release of an executive order from the White House, widely expected as early as this month.

That directive appears likely to call on private-sector operators of critical infrastructure to coordinate with government authorities to devise cybersecurity standards--on a voluntary basis--to bolster their defenses against digital attacks, according to Jake Olcott, a principal at the cybersecurity practice of the Washington consultancy Good Harbor Security Risk Management, and a former counsel to Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.V.) who led negotiations to advance a comprehensive cybersecurity bill.

"It's pretty clearly going to focus on critical infrastructure problems. The White House is sort of taking a page from some of the legislative debate and conversation and seeking to develop a public-private partnership that will create security baselines for owners and operators of critical infrastructure across all the various sectors," Olcott says. "That's not creating an obligation to follow those baselines--that can only be done with legislation."

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