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Executive order takes steps to promote Internet security

On Friday, February 13, 2015, President Barack Obama signed an executive order urging companies to participate in information-sharing hubs and, in some cases, to receive classified governmental information, in an effort to protect both government and the private sector from online threats that are growing throughout the world. However, the order did not protect companies from liability from legal action related to the data collected and shared.

President Obama has long attempted to pass legislation that would exempt companies from legal action related to data they collect and share about customers, but he has been unsuccessful. Companies, especially those in the financial industry, have been reluctant to share data without such protections in place. However, Mr. Obama is hoping that the executive order will help wrangle what he termed the “wild west” that is the Internet, calling cyber-attacks one of the most significant threats to national security. On Wednesday, February 11, 2015, Senator Tom Carper, D-Del, introduced a legislative version of the order entitled “Cyber Threat Sharing Act of 2015.”

Many Silicon Valley companies, however, are not sure that the order will create the Internet security that the president believes it will. Many companies report that they are distrustful about sharing information with the government after they learned of the government surveillance policies that came to light after the Snowden leaks.
The White House is calling the executive order just the framework of what it hopes is a much larger information-sharing process that will help prevent cyber-attacks such as the one perpetrated against Sony Pictures recently. President Obama said that the technologies that empower people to do great things can also be used in a negative fashion, inflicting great harm.

In an effort to address the concerns of his industry, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, explained that digital privacy is critical for any technology product, but that his company was focused on selling luxury technology products and not “personal data.” Other top executives such as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo did not attend the summit where the order was signed, citing concerns about government surveillance but financial giants, such as Bank of America and Pacific Gas & Electric were represented.

President Obama hopes that the executive order is the first step toward developing information sharing policies in an effort to create better cyber-security, not only for business and the government, but also for the average consumer as well.

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