The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request Wednesday after the Washington Post revealed Obama’s signature on a secret cybersecurity directive.
According to reporter Ellen Nakashima, Presidential Policy Directive 20 (PPD 20) establishes the guidelines by which federal agencies can combat cyber threats. Several U.S. officials who have seen the classified text spoke to Nakashima off the record about its details.
“The new directive is the most extensive White House effort to date to wrestle with . . . the rapidly evolving world of cyberwar and cyberterrorism,” she wrote. “The policy also lays out a process to . . . ensure that U.S. citizens’ and foreign allies’ data and privacy are protected.”
However, many privacy groups are concerned that the administration’s security efforts are ignoring constitutional constraints. Unlike other controversial cybersecurity bills like SOPA and CISPA, the new directive’s status as “classified” prevents American citizens from obtaining relevant information. That’s why EPIC is demanding its text be released to the public.
“PPD 20 may violate federal law that prohibits military deployment within the United States without congressional approval,” the organization wrote. “Transparency in cybersecurity is crucial to the public's ability to monitor the government's national security efforts and ensure that federal agencies respect privacy rights and comply with their obligations under the Privacy Act.”
EPIC filed a similar FOIA request in 2009 after George W. Bush’s issuance of National Security Presidential Directive 54, which outlined the National Security Agency’s authority in overseeing cybersecurity. The directive’s contents have since remained a secret.
Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, recently told Raw Story that she’s worried about the vagueness of our current knowledge.
“It’s hard to really judge how good or bad this is,” she said. “Theoretically, if in the details it does tow the right lines, it could be an improvement inasmuch as it regulates an area that is right now undetermined . . . but it’s almost impossible to judge where they drew the line [without seeing the directive itself].”
The Obama administration is also debating the employment of a separate executive order to counteract the Cybersecurity Act’s second failure in the Senate Wednesday. The upper chamber voted (51-47) to dismiss a motion to move forward with the bill despite top officials like Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lobbying on its behalf.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gloomily weighed in after the vote.
“Cybersecurity is dead for this Congress,” he said. “What an unfortunate thing.”